Salisbury holiday tree has a history
SALISBURY — The seed was planted for what is now the 13th annual Salisbury holiday tree lighting ceremony back in 2005. While Ken and Mary Beth Tichacek were buying their home on Maple Street from Marcel (known by everyone as “Murphy”) and Diane Larocque, Ken noticed a beautiful spruce on the corner of the property and commented that it must a make a beautiful holiday tree. Murphy told him the tree was actually planted as a memorial to Diane’s mother. The family always wanted to decorate it for Christmas and even had an electrical outlet on the outside corner of the house to power the lights, but, somehow, they never got around to it when the tree was small enough to decorate. Now that it was well over 40 feet tall, it seemed that opportunity was long past.
It became Ken’s mission to make the lighting happen. Neighbors who heard about his dream provided encouragement and ideas. They even passed the hat to raise funds to help defray the cost of all the lights that would be needed. The bigger problem was how to get those lights all the way up to the top of such a tall tree. As luck would have it, VELCO, the company that manages the electric transmission system in Vermont, was running some lines through town that year. Knowing it was a long shot, Ken figured maybe the company would be interested in generating some good will, so he placed a call and VELCO said they’d have a crew there the next day.
At daybreak, the day before Thanksgiving 2006, Ken glanced out his back window, still not really believing the promise he had been given. Then, what to his wondering eyes should appear but a gigantic 100-foot crane and a row of trucks, all with lights flashing, creeping up Route 7. In that moment, Salisbury’s dream became a reality and a number of traditions were started.
A team of four VELCO volunteers, some whom had traveled nearly three hours from their own homes, erected the crane and made short order of stringing the lights. To show their gratitude and to warm the crew up, the Tichaceks provided a chili brunch. Over the years, that brunch menu has been expanded to include hot cocoa and cookies but the tradition remains the same. The same men from VELCO return year after year and have started bringing their children along to help.
The actual tree lighting celebration has also become a Salisbury tradition and it, too, hasn’t changed much since 2006. Each year on the first Saturday in December, townspeople gather around a large bonfire across the street at Memorial Park. Hot cocoa and marshmallows are provided, carols are sung and neighbors huddle together to catch up on the news and discuss their plans for the holidays. The children, of course, have something else on their minds, and wait impatiently until they hear the wail of a distant siren getting closer and closer. In the early years, it was “Sheriff Dick” delivering Santa. When he retired, that honor has been taken up by the Salisbury Volunteer Fire Department and Santa arrives in style, atop a fire engine with lights flashing and siren blaring. With a loud “Ho ho ho!” Santa pops out bearing candy canes for the children. When Santa declares, “It’s time to light the tree!” everyone walks across the road to count down until an honorary tree-lighter plugs in the extensions and the tree bursts with light.
Once the tree has been sufficiently admired, it’s time to board the hay wagon for a ride down the hill to a warmer indoor celebration at the Salisbury Free Public Library. There the librarian reads a brand new book that has the names of all the babies born in Salisbury that year. Santa reads “The Night Before Christmas.” Goulash, cider and cookies are consumed and Salisbury’s holiday celebration has been sufficiently kicked off for another year.
Salisbury’s holiday tree, by the way, is still growing. No one knows exactly how tall it is, but best estimates place it at between 54 and 55 feet tall. Folks in town are proud that it is probably taller than big city holiday trees in Burlington, Los Angeles, and even the National Tree in Washington, D.C. It’s still about 20 feet shorter than the famous tree at Rockefeller Center, though.
IT TAKES A VILLAGE
For a lot of people, the best thing about this small-town Vermont story is that it proves the idea of community is still a powerful thing, even in an age of social media and political divisiveness.
“All Mary Beth and I had was an idea,” Ken Tichacek says. “After that, the community became involved and made it all possible, year after year. There are those VELCO volunteers, of course. There is also the hay wagon provided and decorated by the Devoid family. Firewood for the bonfire, publicity, picnic tables, the hospitality of the Free Public Library Board, all those things are donated. Each year, it makes us so grateful to live in this place.”
From the start, Santa Claus is brought to life every year by Dan Tichacek, who travels from Massachusetts to perform for the kids of Salisbury. Folks in town have taken to calling him “Danta Claus” and appreciate what Dan has had to overcome in order to be “Santa’s Helper.” Since his birth, Dan has been a severe stutterer and has to struggle to communicate. But, being Santa’s Helper seems to give Dan the intense focus he needs to largely overcome that challenge each year when he comes to Salisbury. For one magical night every year, Dan barely stutters.
That is except once, a couple of years ago, when Dan was helping Santa read a story at the library. Danta Claus was unfamiliar with the story, lost his focus, and began to stutter a lot. The adults worried about how the small children would react until one little girl whispered to her friend “He’s talking reindeer talk.”
The 13th Annual Salisbury Holiday Tree Lighting will be held at 5 p.m. this Saturday, Dec. 1, at Memorial Park, across from Maple Meadow Farm. Call Ken or Mary Beth at 802-352-4836 if you have any questions.