While the Chamber is looking for other organizations capable of leading the Covered Bridge Celebration, the lighting of the community Christmas tree, and the Downtown Christmas Parade, none of those events have transitioned to new leaders yet.
That means the Chamber will be in charge of this years tree lighting and the parade. This could be the last time to watch those Christmas events the way they are put on by the Chamber, before successor organizations bring in their new ideas.
Chamber Director Tonya Stevens said the tree lighting will once again get started around 5:30 p.m. at the University of Tennessee Extension Office, 824 E. Elk Ave. It is always a rather short event, filled with Christmas and patriotic spirit. One of the highlights throughout the years has been the singing of Christmas carols. Some are performed by talented soloists such as Loretta Bowers and others. A fixture is the choir from Elizabethton High School, led by Director Debbie Gouge.
As the twilight turns to darkness, shortly after 6, the people given the honor of turning on the tree’s lights are led to the trunk of the tree, where a large metal electrical box is banded to the tree. It takes such a large box to handle the electrical load needed to light all the bulbs, As the switch is thrown, a song such as “O Christmas Tree” is sung. At the same time the Christmas tree lights come on, the Christmas lights stop nearby Lynn Mountain are turned on. The top of the mountain suddenly display the words “Merry Christmas” on its summit. There is also a large triangle decorated as a Christmas three next to the words. The mountain is tall enough that the Christmas wish can be seen throughout the downtown area.
Stevens said this year’s honor of turning on the tree lights goes to members of the new Main Street organization and the long established Downtown Business Association. They will also be honored as grand marshals of the Christmas Parade on Dec. 7, the last event the Chamber will host.
The tree on which the Christmas lights are lavished grows outside the University of Tennessee Extension Service. The office is located in a two-story frame house built by Maj. Henderson Folsom, the highest ranking Confederate officer from Carter County in the Civil War. After the war, tradition has it that Folsom took his family up 6,200-foot tall Roan Mountain for a picnic. On their way home, they collected two small Fraser fir trees to plant in their front yard.
The family must have been great gardeners, for one of those Frasers still survives. Frasers do not thrive at such a low elevation as Elizabethton. The trees usually grow best above the 4,500-feet elevation of the tallest peaks in the Southern Appalachians. Elizabethton’s tree is so hardy that it is now 78-feet tall, which makes it the tallest Fraser fir in Tennessee and second tallest in the world. It also holds the title of the world’s tallest living decorated Fraser fir.
The tree is much loved in Elizabethton and recent news that it was suffering from an infection of balsam wooly adelgid was front page news. County commissioners assured the public the infestation would be effectively treated.
The tree is tall enough that when lit it can be seen at night troughout the eastern end of downtown Elizabethton. It also provides an impressive display for motorists driving on U.S. Highway 19E from Bristol. As the motorists drop down from Holston Mountain, the decorated tree can clearly be seen among the lights of Elizabethton.