I don’t know why, but I had a total Little House on the Prairie notion about tree lightings. I pictured bundled people, quiet anticipation, a mayor in a top hat flipping a novelty-sized switch, and a chorus bursting into song like we live in Whoville. When I read that the festivities were being aired on channel 5 and sponsored by Dunkin Donuts, alarm bells should have gone off. Still, I was unprepared for Boston Common stuffed with thousands of slightly disgruntled people, vendors selling glow sticks and flashing reindeer ears, a giant menorah that inexplicably had three candles lit on the first night of Hanukkah, and in general, a creepy lack of Christmas spirit. Lots of grubby babies crying. This was the best picture I got of the evening.
By far the most interesting aspect of this whole endeavor was the fact that the tree was donated to the City of Boston by Nova Scotia, as it has been for about 40 years. The donation is in thanks for Boston’s response to the Halifax explosion in 1917, which is horrifying and fascinating in itself. Here is my history-lover’s short version of the facts: in 1917 in Halifax Harbour, there was a shipping accident that caused a ship carrying munitions to catch on fire. Many buildings and homes had picture windows that faced the harbor, and the fire drew many people to their windows to watch the tragedy. About 15 minutes later, the munitions ignited and there was a devastating explosion that completely leveled the area around the harbor and left destruction for miles. Ironically, the spectacle of the fire put many more people in harm’s way by drawing them to face the incredible explosion. Boston factors in because less than 24 hours after the disaster, there was a train loaded with supplies and medical personnel leaving for Halifax from our fair city. For the past 40 years, the Boston Common has had a Christmas tree from Nova Scotia as a token of appreciation for the help.
I find the continued connection between Boston and Nova Scotia to be very sentimental in an heirloom kind of way. I love the story behind the simple donation of a tree. And that little history factoid is much better than my retelling of trying to get around the line for latte samples to score a view of the tree during the crazy ceremony that somehow ended up on my list. Another one down…
Boston’s Official Tree Lighting information here.
More information about the Halifax Explosion here. (There is also a really cool fictional retelling of the disaster in the book A Wedding in December by Anne Tyler, which is where I first heard of it.)