ARTS COLUMN: It’s time to create a new Christmas tradition for Wallaceburg

Article content

When something remains the same for a long period of time, it often evolves into what we call a “tradition”.


Story continues below

Article content

As we are now well ensconced in the Christmas season, traditions of all kinds will soon be played out or honoured by individuals, families, organizations, and even entire communities.

Due to my inability to embrace change readily, traditions play a big part in my life and many of them are connected with Christmas.

Many will recall that last Christmas season I posted a series of six short videos on YouTube highlighting some Christmas traditions that our community once held dear to its heart.

If you haven’t seen them or wish to watch them again, go to YouTube and type Dave Babbitt, then any of: Laurence Nativity Scene, Lighting Up the Season, KARe Tree, Rotary Carol Sing, Bethel Pentecostal Living Christmas Tree, or Santa Claus Parade.

You will see several faces that are no longer with us and six hometown traditions that are now a part of our history.

The reality, however, is that traditions constantly evolve and what we think “we always do” is really only a blip in time.

For example, a family Christmas tradition can be upheld for many years but eventually children grow up, new families are created, and a tradition once held so dear must be adapted to a new reality that traditions from two families must now be accommodated.

Even societal traditions evolve.

The one I think of today is that of Christmas Carolling.

Most of my Christmas memories have included the tradition of Christmas Carolling, whether it be with a group of friends, a church group, or even family.


Story continues below

Article content

The great thing about carolling was always that it mattered not if one was a great, good, mediocre, or even terrible singer.

Carolling was a fun night out and I know that whatever group I was with, the recipient of our “not necessarily stellar singing” appreciated that we thought of them and took the time to knock on their door.

I know that we brought cheer to many, and most would end up joining in with us.

For over 25 years, I was a part of a carolling group that the late Jan Jackson organized every year.

Our group varied a bit from year to year but frequently included David and Martha Mann, John and Diane Mathany, Emer and Dale Dudley, Christine Bloch, Stan Jackson, Dana Bernardi, Janet Johnson, my wife Clare, occasionally some of our children, and a few that were “sometimes” carollers.

We had a regular touring circuit that always ended up back at Jackson’s where we enjoyed great food, warm drinks and a lot of laughs.

I can’t express how much I looked forward to that tradition every year.

Unfortunately, our tradition finally faded into history a few years ago.

Carolling everywhere seems to have largely faded into history.

If I wasn’t concerned that the “COVID Cops” would arrest and charge me for organizing a public gathering, I’d be organizing a huge, public carol sing this year!

As my column is focused on traditions, in combining my love of Christmas and singing, I have been formulating a plan to hopefully start a new community Christmas tradition starting next year.


Story continues below

Article content

My plan is multi-faceted and is born from an experience, a personal desire, disappointment, envy and many comments and conversations,

The experience I refer to occurred many years ago in Civic Square Park.

After the Santa Claus Parade one year, I set up a sound system and the Arts Council hired Richard Knechtel, a professional entertainer (and childhood friend of John Gardiner). Richard entertained the significant crowd, after which the Brass Factory played, after which we piped recorded Christmas music in the park to falling snow, hot chocolate, treats and the lit-up decorations that Muriel Mercer had organized.

While difficult to describe, let’s just say it was a “magical” evening, but it hasn’t happened since.

The personal desire is one I’ve harboured for many years, and that is to have a night-time Christmas parade where the beauty of Christmas lights and decorations can be enjoyed in their full, magical splendor.

Now this needs some explanation before I’m vilified in Letters to the Editor.

In no way, are my intentions to step on toes and take away from the decades-long tradition of the Santa Claus Parade.

Santa Claus would NOT be a part of this night-time event. Santa would have already come to town.

Many have mentioned to me through the years how they’d love to experience a night-time parade like many communities have and hold it in the heart of the Christmas season.

In the past, I’ve dialogued with a few organizers of the local Santa Claus Parade about moving their parade to the evening, but they say that it isn’t possible, and I accept that.


Story continues below

Article content

My idea of a parade would be that every float MUST feature lights and music.

The parade route would simply be a slow procession through the downtown area with all floats returning to the street in front of the municipal building where they would all park with lights aglow for a big community celebration.

The Civic Square Park will then feature live entertainment (I have connections with a few bands), hot chocolate and a giant carol-sing.

My disappointment comes in observing our Civic Square Park.

There are two large evergreens with a few strings of lights on them.

That’s it.

No displays.

It’s pretty much … dark.

It looks like the Grinch has come to town.

I believe there are enough individuals, businesses, and industry in this community to provide some funding to help create some beautiful displays in the centre of our community.

I also believe there are many craftsmen and artists in this community with the tools, skills, and a willingness to help build very nice displays.

For those who doubt that this can be done, Lynn McCreary of our past WDSS Christmas Show fame is already on-board to spearhead the design of what we need to do to create something we’ll be proud of.

My only concern in this area is getting municipal permission to do so.

Lighting Up the Season consisted of locally made displays, but I can’t help but think of the fellow in Chatham who got in trouble for cutting the grass in a Municipal Park so the kids could play.

The bottom line is that the municipality hasn’t the money, the interest, or the manpower to paint the town for Christmas, so it’s up to us.


Story continues below

Article content

My envy is of other communities who have great Christmas events and beautiful lights that unite their people and draw tourists in the Christmas Season.

I envy Sarnia and the bottomless pockets of the petrochemical industries that fund the large displays in Centennial Park, but one need look no further than Dresden. What Dresden does not only at Christmas, but all year, should be a model for all.

The comments and many conversations I’ve had with people lead me to believe that there is a willingness to tackle this, and I believe that we can do this.

If you think that you might be willing to help with any part of this project, please contact me at

Latest National Stories


Story continues below

News Near Tillsonburg

This Week in Flyers