The frosty air greeted festival goers in Tamaqua Sunday, as the community held its 22nd annual Christmas tree lighting ceremony at Depot Square Park.
A crowd of close to 200 showed up despite temperatures in the high 20s, as Tamaqua's four-day Spirit of Christmas fest came to an end.
The festivities began on Thursday, with a candlelit walking tour of the borough and concluded with the tree lighting. The latter is sponsored by the Tamaqua Beautification Association.
Kevin Steigerwalt, Tamaqua borough manager and president of the beautification association, served as master of ceremonies for the tree lighting.
As it has done in the past, the Tamaqua Area High School Jazz Chorale, under the direction of John Buglio, provided musical sounds of the season. The chorale members sang "Here We Come A-Caroling," "Joy to the World" and, as the tree was lit, "Silent Night."
The featured speaker was Major Sharon Whispell, commanding officer of The Tamaqua Salvation Army Corps. Whispell arrived in Tamaqua from Massachusetts on June 30 and has become involved in the community since then.
Whispell said Christmas is a huge time for The Salvation Army, which works to help people in need, not only during the holidays but all year round.
"There is a need in our community that surrounds us, especially with the economy in the last few years," said Whispell. "The Salvation Army encourages people to have a good Christmas when times are hard, and to let people know the community cares for them. We try to bring happiness and comfort and peace of mind for people in need during this time."
Whispell said it doesn't matter what area it is, the stories are the same, and people are in need. She recalled The Salvation Army helping such a family with a truckload of needed supplies and gifts during one Christmas and seeing the joy on the faces on that family's children.
She related that she was told of the Tamaqua community doing the same for another family before Christmas a couple of years ago.
"The community came together to help them in a matter of hours," said Whispell. "That is what Christmas is all about, meeting the needs of people in need."
Following the ceremony, much of the crowd walked to the nearby Tamaqua Community Ambulance Association building for Christmas cookies and hot chocolate.
Steigerwalt announced the winners of the festival's Christmas cookie contest. The winners received certificates as well as $25 gift certificates from Downtown Tamaqua.
The winners were, Paula Maurer, in the decorated cookie category, for her Jubilee Jumbos; Debbie Yuskauskas, bar cookies, for her Rainbow cookies; Dorothy Blasko, drop cookies, for her peppermint cookies; and Christine Fritz, filled cookies, for her peppermint stick cookies.
The annual Christmas tree festival was held at the Tamaqua Art Gallery, located at the chamber of commerce office at 114 West Broad St. Patrons voted for their favorite decorated trees at the cost of $1 per vote.
The winning tree was by Tamaqua Beautification, which won by $1 over the Tamaqua Area High School cheerleaders. Third place was a tie between Tamaqua Business and Professional Women club and Stonehedge Gardens.
Other highlights of the Spirit of Christmas festival included Friday's Santa Claus Parade and Depot Square Park illumination, sponsored by the Tamaqua Area Chamber of Commerce; Breakfast with Santa at The Salvation Army on Sunday, sponsored by the Eastern Schuylkill Recreation Commission; a performance by the Bach and Handel Chorale on Sunday, held at St. John United Church of Christ; a craft show at Trinity United Church of Christ; a vendor fair at the Tamaqua YMCA; tours of the historic Moser log home; and the Nativity in Music program presented by Barry Gangwer at Bethany Evangelical Congregational Church.
Since its inception through the Tamaqua Area Community Partnership, the Spirit of Christmas has brought Tamaqua together for this annual Yuletide tradition.