celebrating a sense of place

The English Farm, the French Army, and Succotash

By C.G. Wolfe

The winter sun began to set, and luminaries lit the way up both sides of the main street through Oldwick, New Jersey, while 300 people gathered around the Christmas Tree and Menorah at the Tewksbury Township Library. Folks, families, and friends sipped steaming hot cocoa and munched homemade cookies in the frosty air as “Here Comes Santa Claus” played in the background. With the anticipation at its peak, the Oldwick Fire Company’s antique truck rolled up with its sirens heralding the arrival of two very special guests - Santa and Mrs. Claus! Then “in a twinkling” and “a wink of his eye and a twist of his head,” Santa Claus laid his finger aside of his nose and the tree magically blazed – lighting the way for a new Tewksbury holiday tradition.

“I had an idea for a tree lighting,” said Tewksbury resident, Trish Mahoney. “I’m all about bringing the community together.”

Trish Mahoney is the mother of four, who has been involved in all the local schools, sat on local non-profit boards and has supported so many local organizations that even she has lost count.

“I can’t even name all the organizations, so…I’ve been around,” she said.

When this community-spirited dynamo decided to bring a Christmas Tree and Menorah lighting to Tewksbury, she decided it was going to be a true community celebration, bringing together the entire township.

“I know who’s around in town, and I try to bring them together to meet needs,” she told us. “When I was deciding where to have the tree lighting … I thought the library should be the heart of the community … I want the library to benefit because now it’s an opportunity for people who haven’t stepped inside to see how wonderful our local library is.”

With the help of Township Committee member, Dana Desiderio, Trish got the town council to sign off on the site, and then set out to find the perfect tree. She turned to Sean Murray, owner of Murray’s Tree Farm and a local landscape design company, Nature’s Apprentice.

“You need a Douglas Fir…maybe it’s going to be a Rockefeller Tree someday,” Murray quipped.

Sean selected a tree and not only donated it for the celebration, but planted it at his own expense.

“I was hoping he’d give us a 12 ft. tree,” said Trish Mahoney. “He gave us a 15 ft. tree.”

You can’t really have a holiday celebration without a visit from the man in the red suit, so Trish called her friends Jack Ackerman, President of the Tewksbury Athletic Association, and Dawn Jiosi, of the Womans Club of Tewksbury Township, who are personal friends of the North Pole’s first family. They arranged for Santa and Mrs. Claus to come down to Oldwick for a special visit with all the kids and to light the tree on the night of its big debut.

“I had a special section set up,” said Trish. “We had this old, faded leather chair from my library - and that’s Santa’s chair.”

This year, the Womans Club has donated a red carpet to give Santa the royal treatment, and rumor has it that a couple of elves may even be joining him for the revelries.

As the event started coming together, Trish continued to reach out to involve as much of the community as possible.

“What we really wanted to do was get all the organizations in town involved,” she explained.

The Tewksbury Trail Association sponsored the star for the top of the tree. The Tewksbury Police Department donated all the lights. The Tewksbury First Aid Squad provided the candy canes. The Tewksbury Historical Society brought all the hot chocolate, which was served by Oldwick Pack 199. Art classes at Tewksbury Elementary School made ornaments for the tree, while the folks at Whittemore Community, Culture & Conservation crafted handmade pine cone decorations. The Tewksbury Daisy Scouts made the popcorn garland for the trees, and the Friends of the Library, the PTA, the Womans Club of Tewksbury Township and the Tewksbury Education Foundation asked all their members to bake cookies.

“That sounds like a lot of cookies,” said Trish, “but the idea was all the extra cookies could be bagged up and given to the Tewksbury Family Assistance Fund.”

Local resident, Anna Benenson, was instrumental in helping with the Menorah and made sure that the sufganiyot, round jelly doughnuts eaten on the Jewish festival of Hanukkah, were next to the Menorah. The doughnut is deep-fried, in observance  of the Jewish custom of eating fried foods in commemoration of the miracle associated with the Temple oil. This year, her daughter Naomi, President of her senior  class at Voorhees, and founder and president of the  school's Hebrew Culture Club, will light the Menorah with fellow members of the club.

Entering its second season, the Community Celebration continues to grow. Fun and festive activities this year include ornament and craft making inside the library, hosted by Womans Club of Tewksbury Township, and an outdoor screening of “A Charlie Brown Christmas” presented by Haytown Nursery. A special mailbox for letters to Santa will also be placed inside the library this holiday season, with direct deliveries to the North Pole.

Trish chose the second Sunday in December for the celebration, and somehow she even arranged for a little snow last year.

“Yes, the night before, it snowed,’ she said. “It snowed just enough that the streets were clear.”

Trish Mahoney is grateful to all the people who have made this event possible and is hoping for an even bigger turnout this year. Everyone is invited to this wonderful community experience. So, spread the word and bring your family and friends. The festivities begin at 4 p.m. and the tree and Menorah lighting will take place at 5 p.m. at the Tewksbury Township Library, 31 Old Turnpike Road Oldwick, NJ 08858.

The Tewksbury Family Assistance Fund (TFAF) will be collecting gourmet frozen food donations (casseroles, lasagna, etc.) at this year’s tree lighting for their annual frozen food and bake sale, which will take place at the OTS Winter Concert on December 11, and the TES Winter Concert on December 20. All proceeds from the sale will be donated to Tewksbury families in need.  

Tewksbury Tree & Menorah Lighting:

A Community Holiday Celebration

By C. G. Wolfe / Photos by John Bohnel and Trish Mahoney

The English Farm in Liberty Corner, NJ


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