Despite waning numbers of discarded real Christmas trees, the annual tree burning ceremony on New Year’s Eve in Mary Holland Park in Bartow will go on as it has for the past 77 years.
When it started so many years ago, said organizer Eda Marchman, there were hundreds of trees to be disposed of, but with the advent of artificial trees, there are “fewer and fewer to be burned.”
Regardless, Marchman added, the ceremony will go on, starting at 6:30 p.m. on Tuesday, Dec. 31.
“It will be at the soccer field,” she said.
While years ago there was live music and appearances by the Bartow High School band, there will now be taped music and participants will join in singing “Silent Night” and “Auld Lang Syne.” Master of Ceremonies will be former Polk County Democrat editor and publisher S.L. Frisbie. There also will be a prayer offered for the new year, but as of deadline, Marchman had not determined which pastor would offer that devotion.
Marchman suggested participants arrive early, bring blankets if it’s cold, and not to forget mosquito spray. She also said to dress for the weather.
The Bartow Parks and Recreation Department will be setting up bleachers for those who want to sit outside, assemble the sound system and search the city the week after Christmas for discarded trees.
“We send out crews who drive around the city to find trees that have been put curbside,” said Interim Parks and Recreation Department Director Les Barr. “We also hope people will give us a call and we’ll come pick up the trees.” Barr said the number to call is 863-534-0120.
Even so, Marchman said that many choose to park their cars around the field so they can watch the spectacle in comfort.
The spectacle is the actual lighting of the trees, which is handled by the Bartow Fire Department which remain on hand should the fire need controlling.
The ceremonial bonfire started in the mid-1950s by then-City Commissioner Nye Jordan.
“It was a good thing to get old, dried-up Christmas trees out of the houses and was believed to be a safety thing,” she said. “I’m sure he had no idea we’d still be doing it some 77 years later.”
Marchman added that while the bonfire might not be as big as in the past, it’s still an impressive sight.
“It’s still a big deal,” she explains. “And the kids love it. So do I.”