A year after being limited to a drive-by event with a tree lit up in advance and Santa only able to wave from a distance, the 15th annual Philomath Community Christmas Tree Lighting Celebration returns in full force on Friday, Dec. 3.
In what has become a traditional Philomath kickoff of sorts to the holiday season, the event is scheduled to begin at 5:30 p.m. on the front lawn of the Philomath Museum.
Alyssa Lewis, president of the Philomath Area Chamber of Commerce board of directors, called the upcoming event “a breath of fresh air.”
“People have been really wanting to have some piece of normalcy and knowing that we can provide that is great,” Lewis said. “Originally, we were going to be doing the drive-through option again and you know, we sat down and we just thought, ‘why don’t we do this in person again, you know, we’re outside and it’s such a well-attended event but people can continue to wear masks and we can keep the safety protocols in place.’”
Lewis said seeing Philomath Elementary youngsters back out there and hearing them singing holiday tunes in person will be special.
“It just seemed like a really good opportunity to be able to bring the community together because it’s such a well-attended event,” Lewis said. “I mean, we have so many people and the kids love to see Santa and just being able to provide that to the community is a fantastic feeling.”
Although the public may not really notice, the chamber did tweak the timing of the various elements a bit which they hope will provide a better flow to the experience. The biggest change will be to bring in Santa Claus after the tree lights up.
“We’ll start the singing at 5:30 and people will just kind of mingle, drink hot chocolate, eat cookies, do that kind of thing,” Lewis said. “And then we will have the Christmas tree lighting happen first. … Before, we’d have Santa come and then of course everybody’s super excited about Santa and then trying to coordinate the lighting — it was very distracting.”
Santa traditionally rides into the museum parking lot aboard Philomath Fire & Rescue’s Old No. 1.
Joining Santa will be Philomath Frolic & Rodeo queen Jaymie Belcher and Mack the Knight, mascot for the Corvallis Knights summer baseball team.
Shonnard’s and Pacific Power will be putting lights on the tree in the days prior to the big event.
The chamber plans to provide cookies and hot chocolate and Santa will pass out candy canes.
Prior to the current activity at the museum, local residents identified their Christmas tree as a large sequoia on Main and 19th. But the tree was removed in March 2007 as part of the state’s Philomath couplet project, which included widening Main Street. The tree was also said to have been encroaching on neighboring properties with its massive root system.
Local volunteers jumped into action and plans came together to have a living tree planted at the museum. Because of timing and logistics, a temporary tree — a 30-foot noble fir — went up the first year thanks to a donation and arrangements from Bond and Bart Starker. The current tree, a giant sequoia, was planted in November 2008.
The tree-lighting event in 2019 attracted an estimated 500 people.
Lewis said the chamber encourages local businesses to decorate for the holidays to complete the Christmas feel in town.
“We always want to encourage our businesses to decorate — it just makes everything more festive,” Lewis said.
Lewis said the chamber has talked about organizing a holiday decorating contest.
“You know, actually Lisa (Watkins, interim director) and I were just talking about trying to see if we could do a decorating contest — for both businesses and residents,” Lewis said. “We would have two different categories and see if we could pick a theme and then have them do it.”
If a holiday decorating contest sounds familiar, you’re right. The Philomath Downtown Association, before disbanding in 2015, used to have one.
“It was really fun and it was really well received and so we would like to bring that back,” Lewis said. “We’ve had some people ask about it.”
Lewis couldn’t say for sure that this will be the year for the contest to return because there are logistics involved.
“I don’t know if I’d say it’s that difficult but it’s coordinating getting businesses to tell us that they’re going to be participating,” she said.
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