Christmas spirit keeps folks — and grinches — warm at outdoor Plum holiday festival
The Grinch could not steal Christmas away from Plum.
“He is mean, cold-hearted,” Mayor Harry Schlegel said. “It was the kids that changed his heart.”
The green, grumpy character tried to pull the plug on the tree lighting ceremony at the borough building, which kicked off the third annual Christmas at Plum Creek on Nov. 29.
Children, accompanied by Santa Claus and Buddy the Elf, sang “Jingle Bells” and successfully convinced the Grinch to let there be light.
The borough’s tree was illuminated next to four smaller trees decorated by Plum School District and St. John the Baptist School elementary students.
Folks made their way across the street after the ceremony to Christmas Village. The path was outlined with electric candles. Holiday tunes and the smell of hot chocolate filled the air.
There were horse-drawn carriage rides, inflatable and wooden holiday decorations, cookies, food trucks, games and informational booths stationed by volunteers from local organizations.
A craft corner was set up near the ball field’s concession stand. People made paper reindeer hats, candy canes out of cereal and a Christmas tree out of colored cotton balls.
At least 1,000 people turned out for the event — more than last year’s attendance.
“We do this for the community, not for merchants,” Schlegel said. “You can see for yourself — it’s crazy.”
The Grinch was played by Councilman Paul Dern. Resident Jessica Anderson played Buddy. Santa, of course, played himself.
“We wanted to do something to entertain the kids,” borough manager Michael Thomas said about the opening act. “We wanted to do something different instead of the same old thing.”
James Fettis, 7, and his sister, Kiley, 8, from Verona, loved the Grinch. They, and their younger brother, Jaxon, 3, asked Santa for robots and toys this Christmas. It was their second time at the annual celebration.
“It’s a great family experience,” said their mother, Brittany Fettis. “All the families come together, and kids have a good time. The tree lighting was a little different.”
James and Kiley sang with their fellow St. John the Baptist elementary students under the direction of Plum resident and first-grade teacher Marie DiLonardo.
They performed “We Wish You a Merry Christmas,” “Mary Had a Baby,” “Must Be Santa,” “Rudolph the Red-nosed Reindeer” and “Little Drummer Boy.”
“I’m very blessed to be a part of a school where students and families represent the school in such a special way and share their faith,” DiLonardo said. “This is our second year. We had a great time last year. The kids were excited. Our families are always more than willing to showcase our school to the community.”
During some brief snow flurries, attendees took shelter under the tents and pavilions.
Patrick Grady, 3, of Shaler kept warm with a Batman tassle cap. He hopes to get Batman walkie-talkies this year.
“I’m a good boy,” he said.
His older sister, Kathryn Grady, 7, said she was “kind of” good this year, and loved “everything” at the event. She hopes to receive a Barbie house and some Barbies from Santa.
Their mother, Julia Grady, said it was their first time at Christmas at Plum Creek.
“It’s a great event for the community, and I really enjoy that they’re bringing everyone together to enjoy the holiday season,” Grady said. “We will likely be coming again. Seeing our children’s faces (was the best part).”
Organizers hoped to have reindeer at the event for the third straight year. An unnamed Ohio-based company that was expected to provide the animals did not show up.
Organizers said they believe weather played a role in their decision.
The Dojonovics’ holiday display was missed. They donated hundreds of handmade cartoon character cutouts the past two years.
Thomas said the legendary Plum family had other commitments and could not set it up this time.
“We went out and got some things, and we’re lucky enough to have a lot of sponsors that collect thousands of dollars,” he said. “In addition to paying for sleigh rides and stuff, we’re able to get more displays.”
Weather was not a factor for the Plum High School jazz band and choir. Both were expected to perform, also for the third consecutive year, but Schlegel said the teachers gave the borough less than 48 hours’ notice that they would not participate. That meant fewer volunteers and no student concert because of a lack of chaperones.
The mayor believes the decision was due to an ongoing contract dispute between the district and Plum Borough Education Association.
Union chief negotiator David Vitula and union President David Gray declined to comment.
Schlegel would not stay silent.
“This is a chance for (students) to perform before the community, not just their high school students and parents,” the mayor said. “They didn’t get that opportunity because, I understand, some teachers wanted to come down, but the union leadership told them no.
“We know it’s because of the contract dispute. Of all the negative aspects the last couple of years, all came from teachers. We got black eyes as a community because of them. … I got a bully pulpit, and I’m going to use it. All of council’s upset, not just me.”
Mona Costanza, one of the organizers, said her team was able to rally together and put on a great event despite the setbacks.
“The show must go on,” she said. “Our team came together. Our office staff was fantastic. They all volunteered and are all working here. This has to be record numbers this year. We had close to 100 gallons of hot chocolate, gone. Oakmont Bakery donated 100 dozen cookies. They’re just about gone also. We’re happy. Each year it gets bigger and we love it.”
Thomas commended Costanza, Assistant Borough Secretary Marie Gingery and all the volunteers for the event’s success.
Michael DiVittorio is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Michael at 412-871-2367, [email protected] or via Twitter @MikeJdiVittorio.