In an effort to head off comments about downtown Christmas décor, I am going to share some deep dark secrets from the committee in charge of maintaining the popular holiday lights that outline the buildings in our 1880s business district.
You will likely notice by the time you read this column that the lights have not yet been turned on. You are observant and correct. Peabody’s Christmas light committee has failed to be in a position to flip light switches and get the lights on to signal the start of our holiday season. Drat!
I get to say whatever I choose about the committee because I am one of its members. It has been a rather small group in place for about 15 years under the guidance of Tom Schmidt who, as a city council member, created a voluntary funding mechanism through the city’s water billing program to encourage residents to donate a given amount each month to holiday lighting. Donations of as little as a dollar a month can be added to a resident’s city water bill to help pay for Christmas light maintenance, additions, upgrades, and special display pieces. In addition, other individuals contribute to the project with annual donations.
As happens often in communities the size of Peabody, replacing committee members who leave town or decide they can no longer be a part of doing the committee’s business is a challenge. Tom Schmidt and I are the two remaining members of the group. It is not a difficult committee to work on. Operating money comes in steadily all year, catalogs of special holiday displays and supplies arrive periodically, decisions are made about additional expenditures, and bills are paid. We get by on three or four short meetings a year.
Our biggest problem has been hiring someone to attend to the maintenance of the lights that outline the buildings. The lights are permanently installed to eliminate putting them up and taking them down annually. However, we have been plagued by vandalism by young people climbing on top of buildings, unscrewing bulbs, and throwing them to the sidewalk. In addition, several severe hailstorms demolished hundreds of bulbs and, of course, normal usage result in burned out bulbs annually. All of these things have made maintenance a major issue. It is not a matter of finding money to pay for maintenance. The issue is finding a business with a bucket truck that will do the required work in a timely fashion.
After much searching, we were able to hire yet another company capable of dealing with maintenance. The man in charge thought he could take care of all necessary bulb replacements, electrical issues, and LED upgrades by the time our Thanksgiving leftovers were in the refrigerator.
Except, of course, no one considered the possible wrath of Mother Nature and her delight at dumping freezing rain, sleet, and her famous wintry-mix from one end of Kansas to the other during Thanksgiving weekend.
So, if you are wondering why there was no ceremonious flip of the switch on Thanksgiving night to signal the onset of the Christmas season, now you know.
No Grinch is here steal our holiday. The committee in charge is not suffering financial difficulties. No political party is trying to make a statement about anything. Sometimes stuff just happens. The lights will eventually come on and in four or five years, no one will remember that there was a year when they were late.
In the meantime, if you are a fan of our downtown holiday lights and would like to help the committee expand the lighting and purchase more ground displays, we certainly have room for additional members.