The annual Frenchtown tree lighting took on a new aspect this year. The traditional 28-foot Norfolk Pine tree was replaced by nine imaginatively decorated trees each more resplendent than the next, vying for the top spot.
The idea was dreamed up by the Frenchtown Civic Organization (FTCO), which sponsors the celebration.
"It was all of us this year,” said the organization’s creative wizard Allan Richardson, who designs everything from giant lobsters to Eiffel Towers.
"We got together and figured out how to bring the whole neighborhood,” said Roy Magras, the night’s master of ceremonies.
"It’s great for the community, "said FTCO president Henry Richardson, who declined to elaborate more because he had an entry in the competition. Richardson owns the venerable Frenchtown bar La Petite Fenetre.
Sunday’s annual tree lighting has been the focus of Christmas in Frenchtown since the late 1940s or thereabouts – nobody is quite sure – and the evening was filled with the joy and camaraderie of old friends and families joyfully greeting one another as though they hadn’t seen each other in ages, as opposed to the day before, which is usually the case.
The first big moment of the evening came with the lighting of the trees, always a highlight, but with nine trees this year, the lighting was a showstopper. The trees were blessed by deacon Clement Danet, and then the St. Anne’s Choir offered some music.
Followed by more music. The evening wouldn’t be complete without the Voices of Love, who traditionally march in following Glen "Kwabena” Davis on his guitar, the choir swinging and swaying as though they have been doing it for years, which they have.
Dr. Cora Cerge gave the evening’s main address, a sweet rendition of the birth of Jesus.
Then Magras took the stage again to announce the tree competition, encouraging a round of applause for each entry. The applause, he said, was one of four elements in the judging; the others are creativity, light show and theme.
Magras invited everyone to the concession stand for the traditional ham and sweet bread while he tallied votes with the judges.
Meantime, the second highlight of the evening arrived in a fire truck with sirens blazing and kiddies jumping up and down to greet Santa. At last.
This kept the children busy, but the adults (those who weren’t parents, that is ) were cool to Santa’s arrival. Whose tree was the best? Who clapped the longest? When would we know?
Magras announced a second round of applause for the trees, and then disappeared behind an impressive stack of paper at the podium.
Actually, every tree should have won; they all represented such a labor of love. The trees were: Betsy’s Bar, decorated with shiny miniature shot and cocktail glasses; Forever Flowers resplendent in shades of blue; LaPetite Fenetre, covered with ornaments created from cans of Old Milwaukee, Budweiser, Coors Light and Coke cans; Bella Blu & Pie Whole, brightly decorated with conventional ornaments; Hook Line and Sinker, covered with blue jellyfish; MLB Creative, also a fish theme running more to lobster; Run Shandy, covered with big balls; Epernay, wine corks hanging from its branches; and the Frenchtown Community Center with an old-fashioned take on "Angels we have heard on High,” with dozens of tiny angels fashioned from white coffee filters, with marbles for their heads.
Santa finally pulled out, and the crows stood stock still as Magras appeared, their eyes and ears at attention for the third, and most important highlight of the evening to those more than four feet tall.
Coming in first was LaPetite Fenetre with its artfully decorated cans, next Forever Flowers in its blue glory, and third the little angels of the Frenchtown Community Center.
The beer cans were the handiwork of Lisa Hunt, a good friend of proprietor Henry Richardson.
"I told him a while back to save those cans for me,” Hunt said, "and he obliged. It took me about two and a half days.”
The tiny ornaments were in the forms of flutes and stars, and heaven knows what else. Did she wear work gloves?
"Oh, no,” Hunt said. "Just my bare fingers.” Spreading out her hands, she said, "See, no cuts,” while Richardson stood by, beaming at the tree like a proud father.
Allan Richardson, who almost every year says he is retiring, admitted he guided the team in their efforts.
"Next year, we want to get more trees, 12 for the 12 days of Christmas.”