Philomath’s Christmas tree-lighting ceremony Monday night featured all the essentials of a small-town holiday event.
Philomath Elementary School students singing carols. Santa arriving on the back of a vintage Philomath Fire Department truck. A bit of a chill in the air and a picturesque setting: the lawn of the Benton County Historical Museum. And a celebratory ringing of bells as the tree itself was lit up.
But it also included a lot of chatting over cookies and cups of cocoa, which were provided by the neighboring College United Methodist Church.
Shelly Nieman, directory of the Philomath Area Chamber of Commerce, which organized the event, said the opportunity for people to chat at the ceremony is by design.
“There is a lot of downtime,” she said. “You see a lot of people here you know, it’s a small town.”
Nieman said the event’s schedule was tightened up so people who wanted to get home quickly had the opportunity to do so, but leaving room for cookies, cocoa and chatting was still a part of planning.
“(The ceremony) is our way of bringing the community together to celebrate each other, the holidays and the kids.”
Nieman said this year’s iteration of the lighting ceremony was particularly well-attended, thanks to the clear weather. She estimated the crowd was around 500 people.
Volunteers with the Methodist church said they expected to distribute 400 to 500 cups of cocoa, around 20 gallons worth, and around 1,000 cookies.
Jessie Morgan, a church member who handed out cookies, said handing out cocoa and cookies is a way for the church to be a part of the community.
“We hope to gain friends,” she said. “There’s lots of people here I’ve never seen before, but I may see them again.”
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She added that giving people a chance to chat was also a goal of the church.
“There’s a whole lot of laughing and fun going on and that’s what we need,” she said.
Morgan added that it’s also an exciting event for kids.
“It’s something they start looking forward to in the fall,” she said.
Philomath resident Rita Bell said she used to bring her kids to the tree lighting and she now brings her grandkids. The event, for her, is about community.
“I know a whole lot of faces here," she said, "but there are people I don’t know. I meet a lot of people.”
Bell said while she enjoys the gift-giving aspect of Christmas, for her the tree is also a symbol of the deeper religious significance of the holiday.
Bell said last year she missed the ceremony because she was in the hospital for what turned out to be a heart attack.
“It’s extra-special to be here this year,” she said.