Establishing a tradition that people can embrace requires consistency as much as it does touchstones. People have to come to know what to expect from a tradition and to like those aspects.
But this doesn’t happen by accident, it takes a community of people with commitment and a vision for the way the next generation will remember their time on the plaza. It’s part Old Time-y Christmas spirit and part a doubling down on what the Salisbury Plaza eventually will become.
That is the key to maintaining excitement about the Downtown Salisbury, because, while economic development is at the heart of any sustainable revival, getting people to care about the downtown is the revival’s soul.
In the bitter cold of a Saturday morning, the spirit of the downtown revival got another boost as a dozen or so members of the Salisbury JayCees worked together to put up decorations in anticipation of a reinvigorated tradition, the town Christmas tree lighting.
Reclaiming a Downtown Christmas
When Scott Malone was a child and his father, Gene, was the vice president of First National Bank at the Plaza’s center, the tree lighting ceremony was among the highlights of his year. Held the day after Thanksgiving, much of the event’s lure had to do with the spectacle and the hot cocoa, but there also was a sense of belonging to a larger community.
In the intervening decades, the tradition fell off and the downtown fell upon hard times. The focus of several redevelopment plans, only over the last few years has the plaza begun to get more sustainable retail and cultural traction.
Establishing his business downtown and getting more involved with 3rd Friday and other town cultural events, rekindled Malone’s sense of tradition. He recalled how cool it was to feel a part of something. Moreover, he understood that one of the keys to making this current revival permanent was instilling in families with children the sense that the downtown as their place.
With the encouragement and support of town councilman Jake Day, Malone worked to have the Christmas tree lighting restored to the plaza. Last year’s inaugural event, held as part of 3rd Friday to take advantage of the event’s growing popularity, was a massive success. So much so, that this year Mayor Jim Ireton asked Malone to coordinate the event again.
Salisbury JayCees Christmas Tree Lighting
Malone, in turn, recruited the JayCees to help reestablish the tradition. JayCees Membership VP Samantha Chesley was happy to help recruit. And so, with the wind chill hovering just above freezing, a pack of brave souls came to the plaza to begin decorating.
Derickk Weaver, teased his colleagues from atop the ladder where he just had completed wrapping a street pole in plastic garland: “If they’re [not well done], I’m going to come down there and fix them,” he threatened.
Some of the members brought their children, who toughed out the cold by making themselves useful running supplies back and forth up the street. Malone and Chesley were in front of Main Roots Coffee, where a small group of red shirted volunteers were cutting up garland to a specific length to make the streets more uniform.
“It’s cold, but it’s a good kind of cold,” Malone said.
Enduring a chilly, productive day volunteering, though, can have its own rewards. The decorating day will grow into a tradition closely linked with the eventual tree lighting.
People will not only come to expect both, but to appreciate the continuing effort to dress up the downtown. Perhaps best of all, this crop of volunteers will be replaced by the very kids the decorations are meant to impress.
After all, given that it only took one person’s nostalgia to rekindle the tree lighting, preserving it for generations should be as simple as making it worthwhile every year. It already has that very air about it.