CRANBURY: Annual Tree Lighting ceremony illuminates the holiday spirit

By Amy Batista, Special Writer
CRANBURY – The Woman’s Club of Cranbury sponsored its annual Tree Lighting last Friday night.
“The Tree Lighting and Santa was started by the Cranbury Fire Company,” said Elaine Homoky, a member of the Cranbury Lions Club, adding that it has been a tradition for more than 61 years. “Mike Kervan’s grandfather, H. Wallace Schanck, who is my great uncle, was Santa when I was younger. He was in the fire company for more than 50 years and he was chief, just like Mike,” she said. “The fire company started the Santa visits many years ago. You could sit on his lap and take pictures with Santa.”
Mayor James Taylor complimented the Women’s Club for organizing and running the event.
“In particular, they ensure the caroling and tree lighting goes off without any concern and do a wonderful job,” he said. “The Girl Scouts do the Santa’s Workshop and the fire company ensures that Santa arrives on time.”
Town officials estimated that several hundred people attended the event, which was held at the Cranbury Volunteer Fire Company on South Main Street. The Woman’s Club provided hot chocolate to help keep attendees warm.
Samantha Burt, 7, of Brownie Troop 72911, said that she really liked the crafts and especially liked seeing her friends and sister have so much fun.
In 2011, Girl Scout Kelly Coyle worked with the Woman’s Club to earn her Silver Award project. She wanted to create a fantasyland for the children to explore and get more families to attend the tree lighting, as previously reported.
“This was our second community service event of the year,” Troop leader Vanessa Krempa of Troop 72911said in an email on Monday. “The girls really embraced the idea of giving back to our community and wholeheartedly threw their efforts into planning their workshop.”
She said there are 25 second-grade girls in the troop, all from Cranbury School.
“We really had the girls plan the winter workshop themselves,” she said. “They reviewed about 10 activities, discussed the practicality and budget of each one and then voted.”
She said they also planned and practiced each craft in their station groups. Those stations included making a pinecone tree in a pot, scratch-off ornaments, holiday tattoos, edible cereal necklaces, creative corner for writing letters to Santa/coloring/decorating a bag, and decorating a cookie donated by the Americana Diner in East Windsor.
The stations were sponsored by The Woman’s Club of Cranbury, Orange Theory Fitness in West Windsor, Teddy’s Restaurant, Cranbury Pizza, Food Sing, Americana Diner, Provident Tax Planning and Business Services LLC, Raritan Group, Studio 43, Fraternal Order of Police Cranbury Lodge No. 68, Debbra A Keegan M.D, with IRMS Reproductive Medicine at St. Barnabas.
“Samantha Burt emailed the fire chief herself for permission to use the fire house,” she said. “The Brownies asked local businesses for donations. While not every request was granted, the girls learned valuable skills in asking adults for things.”
The girls were particularly thrilled that the event benefited Toys for Tots, she added.
“I absolutely loved how each Brownie took pride in the event and wanted to make the night a fun, exciting time for their friends and the community,” said Ms. Krempa. “They were really jazzed to hear all the compliments from their friends and adults and it really built up their self-confidence.“
She said they all signed thank you cards to all the organizations that donated time, money and effort to make the winter workshop special for everyone.
“Parents of the Brownies have reached out to tell us how much the event meant to their daughters,” she said. “One mentioned how kind and appreciative the patrons were to her and it made her feel special and that the event was meaningful. Another mention how much pride her daughter felt and enjoyed being ’of service’ to others.”
For Ms. Krempa, the highlight of the evening was watching the Brownies run their stations and see how much fun they had and the children had as they participated in each craft. “The Brownies worked really hard planning and practicing their activities and they were thrilled to see their friends in the community have such a fun evening,” she said. “They ended the evening feeling really good about their event and had a lot of pride at what they accomplished, especially as we loaded up the toys ready to be donated to Toys for Tots.”
Admission to the tree lighting was free but attendees were encouraged to bring an unwrapped toy for the Toys for Tots program sponsored by the Cranbury Lions Club.
“There were about 60 toys collected,” Ms. Homoky said.
Traditional carols began at 7 p.m. and were introduced by Dorothy Klotzbeacher and performed by the Cranbury Brass Band, led by Pat Bohr.
“Dorothy Klotzbeacher is a long standing member who took over the caroling outside the old firehouse in the ’90’s when the tree was moved to Memorial Park,” said Susan Westerberg, a member of the Woman’s Club of Cranbury in an email on Monday.The brass ensemble has been playing for the caroling for about 20 years, said Susan Westerberg, a member of the Woman’s Club of Cranbury in an email on Monday.
Ms. Westerberg said that the tree was originally put in the gazebo in Village Park and decorated by The Woman’s Club with bulbs, balls, and bows. But vandalism forced the tree to be moved to Memorial Park.
“Public Works took over obtaining and decorating the tree and coordinating the lighting with the end of the caroling and the arrival of Santa which is coordinated with the fire department,” she said.
Ms. Klotzbeacher could be heard after the caroling counting down to the lighting of the tree as the crowd had moved outside the old firehouse house and waited for the Public Works to flip the switch and lit the tree that was decorated with lights, bows, and ornaments.
“Santa did not light the tree this year as we tried something different to see if we could keep the kids a bit more organized,” Mayor Taylor said. “I think he’ll go back to lighting the tree next year.”
The lighting of the tree was followed by sirens as Santa arrived via a fire truck in front of the old firehouse to greet the children, young and old, and led them into the new firehouse. Children were able to talk with Santa about what they would like for Christmas before sitting on his lap and taking a photo and receiving a special treat.
“As I am as big a kid as the next person,” he said. “With twin, 2-year-old boys and a 6-year-old girl they each see something different so I get to watch the night unfold through their eyes,” said Mayor Taylor. “My daughter is old enough where each part of the evening is special.” He said he and his daughter were watching the Lifetime Christmas specials and she said, “Dad, this is just like Cranbury.”
“I am proud that we still call our Christmas Tree a Christmas Tree and our residents are not afraid to say Merry Christmas or Happy Chanukah,” said Mayor Taylor. “Keeping these traditions alive is critical to keeping our town culture and identity intact.”
Any resident who is interested in Santa delivering a gift to their child ahead of Christmas can drop of gifts at the firehouse on Dec. 14 between 7 and 9 p.m. Santa will deliver one gift per child during the weekend of Dec. 19 and 20, during which residents will receive an approximate drop-off time, according to the Cranbury Volunteer Fire Company officials.
For additional information, you can contact the firehouse at 609-395-0633 or email station48chiefs@yahoo.com.