If you were looking for someone special on Christmas Eve they were probably in Cherokee. This year the little settlement of approximately 160 persons hosted a crowd of over 200 at their annual Community Christmas Tree lighting.
Every year since 1946, Cherokee men and boys have gone to the pine yards and picked a large native yellow pine and put it up beside the Methodist Church on the day before Christmas. They decorate it gaily and presents start to mysteriously materialize underneath. It might be a new bicycle for Zack, or a pet rabbit in a hutch for Sabastain or a new dolly for Madison. The children gather all around to wait to see what Santa has brought them.
Mr. and Mrs. Santa Claus arrive in their brightly lit sleigh led by Rudolph-the-Red-Nosed Reindeer to the cheers from the anxious children and well-wishers. This year Santa must have lost some weight because his suit didn’t fit him too well and many won’t learn his true identity until next Christmas Eve.
Santa’s helpers quickly start to hand out the colourfully wrapped gifts to the excited children sitting on the ground at their feet. They had been waiting for this all year. There are so many functions filling the calendars leading up to the “big day” the children think it will never get here.
It’s a dark night with no moon but the Christmas Lights on the tree give the whole evening a magical atmosphere and cameras are flashing from everywhere as proud parents want to capture the looks of excitement as their child sits on Santa’s knee to thank him for their gifts. The weather prediction called for rain, but it only came when the evening was winding down and almost everyone had gone home, and then only a slight spry.
For some it was their first time here, for many it has been too many to count. This evening has always been a special occasion in Cherokee and they look forward to being “back home” visiting with family and friends.
After all the gifts have been handed out and Santa has been sent off to three loud “Hip, Hip Hoorays” the crowd heads across the street to the Community Centre for a something to eat. This year they had a choice of Curried Chicken or Curried Mutton, with white rice, cole slaw and macaroni n´cheese, or Soused Chicken or Soused Wild Pork, with fresh sour, peppers and Johnny cake and a table full of desserts.
Most of the food was donated and prepared right in Cherokee. Cash donations were accepted at the door to help pay for the necessary containers, drinks, and other items not donated. Usually there is enough collected each year to pay for the purchase of at least the main meats next year and every year the local ladies try to come up with a different menu. This year not everyone ate curry or souse, but there were very few dissenters and many more praising the cooks.
After everyone had filled their bellies, the fireworks came out. They are always an agitation to those who turn in early and are just beginning to close their eyes in sleep, but a real delight of the little ones who have been looking forward to seeing them. Set off at the water’s edge and lighting up the night sky they were really breathtaking, but were all finished before 10:30 p.m.
It’s an evening to forget your troubles, an evening of being with friends and remembering other times in Cherokee and those that are not with us anymore and all the fond memories that come to mind. This event is a local tradition that residents hope never dies.