Christmastime in Hammonton—this year
Last week I looked back at some Christmastime memory makers from the Hammonton of decades ago.
This week, let’s look at the events, places and moments in 2021 that are making the Christmastime memories for decades from now.
The Christmas Tree Lighting ceremony at the Corner of Bellevue Avenue and the Ronald Reagan Drive portion of Central Avenue was held on December 4, as it has been (off and on) for decades in the downtown area. The tree, located between Reagan Rock and Wells Fargo’s classic 1926 bank building, looks incredible again this year. While weather concerns postponed the Hammonton Volunteer Fire Department Christmas Parade from its original December 11 date to December 12, crowds still showed up to line Bellevue Avenue downtown for a rolling pageant that featured Santa Claus and decorated fire trucks. The parade has been a Hammonton tradition since the late 1990s. Another cherished local event, the Victory Bible Church Living Nativity, was held at the church on S. Egg Harbor Road on December 3 through 5.
There is something very moving about watching the members of a church act out the Christmas story. The time and dedication that went into putting together this production—which is held outside in the colder weather—is a testament to their faith.
Christmastime also means shopping, of course. Many of you recalled the Jamesway store that I wrote about last week, now home to the Hammonton ShopRite in Peach Tree Plaza. Walmart is the new version, particularly for people who shop in person instead of online for their gifts. The parking lot is filled, the lines at the checkout counters are longer, and even in an era of “supply chain” shortages, people are still finding what they want for Christmas.
At the smaller, family-owned stores, it’s also easy to become filled with the Christmas spirit, especially with stores like The Golden Feather uptown and Tales of the Olive downtown so beautifully decorated. There is always something unique inside their warm and inviting stores waiting to become the perfect gift for your special someone. The owners and staff make shopping at these stores and other locally-owned-and-operated ones like them a pleasure at Christmastime—and all year long.
At the local schools, Christmastime brings an air of excitement with it, the upcoming vacation and the sense that one part of the year is coming to an end and another is coming along right behind it. Who can forget being a teenager in high school at Christmastime? The students of today are sharing gifts and memories as well. St. Joseph Academy’s decorations at the corner of Central Avenue and the School House Lane portion of Vine Street are donated by Ben Castone of Ben Castone Landscaping each year. This year features a light show of large snowflakes on the walls of the Central Avenue side of the school, along with a huge 60-plus-inch wreath illuminated with red lights (the predominant school color, of course) A Nativity scene in a manager on Central Avenue, boxwoods with red lights that spell out “St. Joseph” and red and white lights on the side of the student center on School House Lane all help add to the festive mood at St. Joseph Academy and the downtown.
If you don’t know what a grave blanket is, you probably haven’t spent much time in Hammonton, particularly at Christmastime. These live greens are put on the graves of loved ones at Oak Grove Cemetery, Greenmount Cemetery or Holy Sepulchre Cemetery locally. The close-knit nature of the community means that graves rarely go unattended. Family members of the deceased remember them during the holidays. People’s dedication to remembering their loved ones during this time of year keeps local flower shops like Passions Florist and Our Expressions Florist busy making and selling the grave blankets, along with Ron’s Gardens, with locations on 14th Street and in front of the bustling Bagliani’s Market on 12th Street. Waretown Farms on the White Horse Pike and several local Christmas tree farms also sell grave blankets.
Driving around looking at homes and businesses decorated with Christmas lights is a favorite pastime right now. Some sync the lights to music that you can play on your radio. From traditional lights and decorations to the modern displays and giant lawn inflatables, they are all sure to bring smiles to kids of every age. The main streets like Bellevue and Central Avenues, with their stately homes, are outstanding. It’s fun to go up and down the side streets looking for a hidden gem as well.
Here’s a tip: Fast food and driving around looking at Christmas displays definitely go together.
Lastly, one of my favorite local traditions during the modern Christmastimes has been receiving a free chamois with the Al & Rich’s logo on it each year. It’s the little things that make the biggest memories during Christmastime in Hammonton. Decades from now, all of them will be in the memories of the people experiencing them this year. Merry Christmas to all Hammontonians, and to all Hammontonians a good night!
Gabriel J. Donio is the publisher of The Hammonton Gazette.