Decorated homes make Christmas memories
In the early 1980s, when I was a kid at Christmastime, it was a treat for us to get in our van and ride out to Folsom, where a huge Christmas tree was still being decorated by an elderly Jack Eckhardt, a longtime mayor of that community.
The tree had colored lights on it and was in front of his house—long gone now—on Mays Landing Road near the Folsom Elementary School. Eckhardt would climb a ladder that was leaned against the tree trunk to string the lights.
There wasn’t much in the way of light pollution back then, so the tree stood out in the night, like a big Christmas beacon. The tradition of lighting it went on long after Jack Eckhardt’s death thanks to others who carried on in Eckhardt’s stead. At some point the annual stringing of lights stopped, and the tree now shines brightly only in the memories of the people who recall it.
It was said years ago that Jack’s son, George Eckhardt, a pilot, could spot the tree from high above Folsom at Christmastime, the lights reminding him of home, and family, as he flew over Folsom.
Decorations and other holiday traditions are important, and an article and photos by Joseph F. Berenato in this week’s edition reminded me of Jack Eckhardt’s tree and other must-see Christmas displays from my youth. Some of them are also gone forever: J. Garfield DeMarco’s two big trees on Packard Street in Hammonton, also strung with colored lights; George Smith’s little Christmas houses with figures inside on the other end of Mays Landing Road in Folsom, more toward the Penny Pot section, are two examples.
Luckily, as Berenato’s article about decorations shows, there are still plenty of homes that put out beautiful and fun Christmas displays each year in Hammonton and the surrounding area.
All you have to do is jump in a vehicle, put on some holiday music and drive by these displays—and you will be filled with the spirit and wonder of the Christmas season.
The two best parts are: 1. It’s free; and 2. It’s socially distant.
So, in addition to being a throwback to the days when people roamed the streets of town (or beyond it) seeking the serendipity of coming across a house with an outstanding array of decorations on its lawn, this year it’s also the safe bet.
It doesn’t matter if you lean toward white or colored lights, inflatable Grinches or nativity scenes made from concrete, static light displays or streaming lights set to music that you can tune in on your car radio. What matters is that you get the kids in the car, tell them to stow the phones and tablets away for a half hour and sing some Christmas carols together as you look at the displays people put up for you to enjoy.
I know. It’s old school.
Then again, so is Christmas.
Let’s have some fun during these next few weeks. Take some time to be with your family and do something you’ll all remember 40 years from now, just like I remember how I looked up at Jack Eckhardt’s tree in astonishment.
Go find your Christmas memory. It’s out there waiting for you.
Gabe Donio is the publisher of The Hammonton Gazette.