Santa, Yule love this…Merchants plan big night here Friday

By on November 25, 2015
Though the tree is in the same location, the holiday celebration on East Main Street looks much different 92 years later

Though the tree is in the same location, the holiday celebration on East Main Street looks much different 92 years later

On Friday, Nov. 27, the Jolly Old Elf will arrive in Ephrata, lifted off the roof of the Ephrata National Bank by the Pioneer Fire Department’s ladder truck. He will then cross Main Street to Whistle Stop Plaza, which will be transformed into a Toyland, to take up residence inside the railroad station.

Santa’s arrival will be the culmination of a fun-filled day where holiday traditions of the past will be expanded or enhanced, and new traditions will be born.

Jim Boland, a member of the Ephrata Merchants Association’s Christmas committee, said Ephrata’s welcome to the Christmas season and Santa has a “vibrant past” which the committee hopes to nurture and grow.

The original print of this image of Christmas in downtown Ephrata, circa 1923, had a bad crease before Lee’s Camera was able to repair it and owner John Pierce was able to provide a digital image to the mer - chants. Of note on this photo is the placement of the tree in the same spot 92 years later; street lights similar in style to today; the large, mostly adult crowd is attending in mid-day, based on the fact that no shadows are present; the A&P Grocery is in the middle of the Good building, advertising bread for 5 cents; the restaurant beside the bank was called Weidman’s at the time (would later be called Good’s); and people can be seen looking out from second floor ballroom of Good’s Hotel.

The original print of this image of Christmas in downtown Ephrata, circa 1923, had a bad crease before Lee’s Camera was able to repair it and owner John Pierce was able to provide a digital image to the merchants. Of note on this photo is the placement of the tree in the same spot 92 years later; street lights similar in style to today; the large, mostly adult crowd is attending in mid-day, based on the fact that no shadows are present; the A&P Grocery is in the middle of the Good building, advertising bread for 5 cents; the restaurant beside the bank was called Weidman’s at the time (would later be called Good’s); and people can be seen looking out from second floor ballroom of Good’s Hotel.

“What we’re trying to create is an old-time Christmas event,” Boland said. “People who’ve come here from outside of Ephrata for our Christmas celebration say it is so Norman Rockwell-ish. They tell us it’s what they remember from when they were kids. That’s what we’re looking for. We’re trying to keep that appeal.”

Since the town first welcomed Santa in 1953, Christmas in Ephrata has always been a time of bright lights and smiling faces, from the day of Santa Claus’s arrival to free movies at the Main Theatre on Christmas morning. Now the Ephrata Merchants Association is looking to build on that heritage in order to make the town a Christmas destination for kids and parents alike.

Outside the train station, Whistle Stop Plaza will be transformed into a children’s toy land of fun and games, courtesy of the Ephrata Public Library, with free balloons, candy, hot apple cider and more.

This year’s festivities start at 3 p.m. with a movie at the Main Theatre entitled “The Christmas Dragon.” Produced by Ephrata native Kevin Carvell, the movie tells how a group of orphaned children and a dragon save Santa Claus’s life and revive the Christmas spirit. Admission is a donation to the Ephrata Area Social Service’s food bank. The free movie is another time-honored tradition dating back to the Christmas Day free movie at the old Main, where kids packed the 800-seat theatre for a morning of cartoons, Three Stooges shorts and kid-friendly films such as “The Lone Ranger and the “Lost City of Gold” which this reporter recalls. After the movie, kids leaving the theater received a free orange and a box of chocolate candy, all courtesy of the Lions Club.

At 4:30 p.m., after the film, Main Street will be closed between Lake and State streets to eliminate any gap between the film and the start of the evening’s festivities. During this time, food venders and others will begin to set up.

“We want to make it so that the people don’t have to go home and then decide if they want to come back to attend the event,” said Cindy Mellinger of the Merchants. “Now they can bring the children to see the movie, eat some food, visit toy land in the Whistle Stop Plaza and stay for the event.”

Santa in the crowd during the 2011 celebration.

Santa in the crowd during the 2011 celebration.

Starting at 5:30 p.m., holiday music will echo across town thanks to the unique sound of Getz’s Steam Calliope, believed to be the largest steam whistle in the world. Its sound can be heard up to two miles away.

“Instead of a call to worship like at church, this is a call to come to the lighting of the tree,” Boland said.

One new addition to this year’s event will be horse-drawn wagon rides, provided by the big Clydesdale horses owned by the Landis Valley Museum.

“They’ll have bells and everything to give it that Norman Rockwell feel,” Boland said.

There will be a slight cost for the rides of “only a couple of bucks,” Boland said, “and only because we want to support Landis Valley, and they have costs connected to the horses.”

The rides will be available between 5:30 and 7:30 p.m.

Another new addition will be a visit by the Belsnickle, a mainstay of the traditional Pennsylvania German Christmas observance.

The Belsnickle will visit Ephrata from 6 until 7 p.m.

A laser light show featuring “cool laser effects” is also being planned with colored laser beams being projected into the night sky, Brown said.

The community Christmas tree, a nearly 25-foot tall blue spruce donated by Ryan and Karen Martzall of Lincoln, will again be located in front of the bank and will be lit at 7:15 p.m. As always, its decorations will be created by local residents and school children and kids in day-care centers, and the whole thing lit by old-fashioned lights.

The tree lighting will be accompanied by the singing of Christmas carols, led by vocalist Ethan Fasnacht on the keyboard,

All of the festivities will take place under the glow of the borough’s new, brighter Christmas lights. The merchant’s association is currently seeking to raise $17,000 to purchase 70,000 new lights. To help with that they are asking residents to sponsor a tree at $125 each or Adopt-A-Wreath for $35 since the merchants must replace 36 of their 250 wreaths and 125 bows, plus there are 48 trees that need to be lit.

This year’s welcome to Santa is perhaps the most ambitious effort ever, but luckily there are more people on-board to make it a reality. The Ephrata Merchants Association has teamed up with the Chamber of Commerce and the library. They are also hoping to be joined by Downtown Ephrata Inc. and other civic groups, and also attract corporate sponsorship, as well.

“Suddenly, we have this great movement of organizations working together,” Boland said.

All of this cooperation and activities are designed to preserve Ephrata’s rich holiday past for future generations.

“We are preserving Santa Claus and the entire tradition,” Boland said. “We hope to bring back the heritage of what the town was and saying to people that Ephrata is a destination. This is a place to come. This is a wonderful event for children.”ephrata-holiday-schedule

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