Guess who’s coming to town?

By on November 14, 2018
EDO Christmas Committe pictured (left to right)  Linda Martin, David Boland, Kelly Withum and Lee Jacoby.

EDO Christmas Committe pictured (left to right) Linda Martin, David Boland, Kelly Withum and Lee Jacoby.

Gala Santa arrival, tree lighting set for Nov. 23

Amid the blaring music of a brass band and the dazzle of a laser light show, Santa Claus will again arrive in Ephrata, much to the delight of young and old alike.

With the celebration set for Black Friday, Nov. 23, preparations will start early as Main Street between Lake and the Square will be closing to traffic at 3 p.m. The street will remain closed until 9:30 p.m.

At 5:30 p.m., the Getz Steam Calliope will sound off, literally, announcing to all within earshot, and that could mean a large part of the borough, that festivities are commencing. Built around 1962 and mounted on an 18-wheel tractor trailer, the steam-generated musical instrument will loudly toot out its tunes until 6:30 p.m.

Also at 5:30 p.m., the Whistle Stop Plaza will be converted into Toyland, a magical world filled with games and prizes for the kids. Costumed characters will mingle with the visitors as well. Youngsters can also ride a barrel train or join their families on horse-drawn wagon rides provided by Landis Valley Museum. Jugglers and other street acts will add their special brand of entertainment. Cookies and apple cider, served warm to fend off the evening chills, will be available in front of Hometown Refurnishing.

Emceed by WIOV radio personality Casey Allyn and her on-air partner Rich Creeger, the evening’s entertainment kicks off at 6:30 p.m.

Big Boy Brass will again supply the holiday music, playing from a stage that will be set up in front of Ephrata National Bank. For this Lancaster-based organization, Ephrata has become an annual holiday stop.

“Their first big performance was right here at our Christmas program several years ago,” said David Boland of the Ephrata Development Organization (EDO), which is spearheading the event. Boland said he “discovered” them several years ago.

“I was driving through the city and I heard this brass band and I went looking for them,” he recalled.

Going in search of the source of the music, he found the band and struck up a conversation, asking if they’d like to play at Ephrata’s Black Friday event.

“They said yes and now it has become a tradition for them,” Boland noted.

To add to the harmonious spirit of Christmas, singers from Ephrata Performing Arts will blend their voices to the music.

Shortly after 6:30 p.m. the Belsnickel will step out of mythical Pennsylvania/German Folklore and into Ephrata’s real-time celebration as he dismounts from the Lincoln Fire Company’s antique fire engine. A ragged, disheveled figure known to carry both a bag of treats for good children and a switch to discipline naughty ones, the Belsnickel will mingle with the crowd until Santa Claus, his more popular and better known cousin arrives.

At about the same time the Belsnickel arrives, Ephrata will be illuminated with a fantastic laser light show. The light show will be choreographed to the Big Boy Brass’s music.

The lights on the town Christmas tree, which again will be set up in front of Ephrata National Bank, will be sparkle to life at around 7:45 p.m. after which Santa and Mrs. Claus will appear atop the bank. However, unlike past years when he has been “rescued” by the Pioneer Fire Company’s ladder truck, Santa and his wife will be escorted by fire fighters through the bank and emerge out the front door. The change is for safety reasons to avoid any possibility of injuries from the ladder being raised and lowered amid the throng of holiday partiers.

Santa will then cross Main Street to set up his headquarters at the train station. His hours will be Thursday-Friday 5:30-7:30 p.m. and Saturday 10 a.m.-3 p.m.

Boland said that the event last year attracted a crowd estimated at 8,000 which is a long way from the meager group who sang around the Christmas tree a decade ago.

“It’s been growing every year,” he said. “Ten years ago we had maybe a hundred people gathered around the tree. Now we have thousands.”

And it’s not just the Ephrata area community who cram the street that night, but others come from as far away as Lancaster, Lititz and Lebanon. According to Linda Martin, EDO board member and chair of the Community and Events Committee, that popularity is because Ephrata’s tree lighting is, so far as she knows, the only one around that provides activities for the kids.

“This event is truly family-oriented,” Martin said. “We have things geared for the kids, like Toyland.”

Ephrata’s tree-lighting event is a true community effort, with loyal local sponsorship by businesses both with cash and in-kind services, along with the labors of more than 80 volunteers. And that’s the way the EDO said it should be.

“If it’s going to continue and be a tradition, it can’t be left in the hands of one or two people,” Boland said. “It has to be in the hands of the community. The business community has shown support because if it wasn’t for the businesses, the money wouldn’t be there. Most of the funding for this comes through the business community.”

It takes between $25,000 and $30,000 in cash or services to stage the event.

Some sources of funding come from the public as well through things like the Adopt-A-Wreath and Adopt-A-Tree programs. These give people the opportunity to dedicate a gaily-lit wreath (for $35) or a downtown tree ($125) to loved ones. Forms for these can be picked up at the train station or on-line at

The EDO is still looking for volunteers to help on Black Friday. Anyone interested may call 717-721-6169.

Larry Alexander is a freelance columnist based in Ephrata. He is an award-winning journalist and New York Times best-selling author. He can be contacted at



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