LAST SATURDAY at 7 p.m., the Savage Holiday Tree was dedicated in a brief ceremony, followed by a block party.
Savage Community Association member Deb Schultz and other members of the group's Holiday Committee dispensed cocoa, coffee, cookies and good cheer behind Carroll Baldwin Hall, where folks gathered to admire the unlighted tree and greet each other.
Elaine Johansen wandered through the crowd giving out raffle tickets for a green Beanie Baby. Santa enjoyed a brief respite from his last-minute chores and stopped by to hand out candy canes to children.
Bill and Ellen Waff brought their Great Pyrenees dogs to the event. The dogs, which were very popular with the under-7 set, resemble extra-fuzzy St. Bernards. Several children asked for rides and were reminded that dogs were not ponies -- size notwithstanding.
After the crowd of 100 or so drank a bit of cocoa, it was time for the formal presentations.
Charla Long thanked everyone involved in fund raising, obtaining a historical easement to plant the tree, buying the tree and decorating it -- the Savage Community Association, the Carroll Baldwin Hall Association and the volunteers.
There was a brief emergency call for Dennis Thornton -- who knows where all the electrical connections are in the building -- and the holiday tree came to life.
Strings of colored lights circled the tree. Little red bows were scattered across its branches, topped by a large gold star.
The tree, a spruce, stands about 7 feet tall. But raised on its circular bed in the center of Baldwin Commons, it looks more imposing.
Betsy Beachum and Long decorated it so that it would look festive in daylight, too.
A cheer went up when the tree was lighted, and then it was time to award prizes in the Savage Mill and Savage Community Association's Holiday Decorating Contest.
Greg Gardes announced the winners, again thanking everyone who helped to brighten our neighborhood by putting festive lights around their homes.
Winners were Linda Beahon in the single-family house (Colonial) category; Myra Phelps in the single-family house (traditional) category; and Betsy Beachum in the single-family house (religious) category.
Bob and Elaine Johansen won the townhouse/duplex (Colonial) category; William Coleman took first place in the townhouse/duplex (traditional) category; and Norma Neimiller was winner of the townhouse/duplex (religious) category.
Beth Decenzo was winner of the apartment (any style) category.
Joe and Charla Long won the holiday-door decoration category.
And Barbara Decheubel, Thomas Leishear, Bill Gmeinwieser and Robin Smith received honorable mentions.
Prize winners received $100 each; honorable mentions earned $50 apiece.
As the Carroll Baldwin Association presented a short version of the Charles Dickens classic holiday story "A Christmas Carol" later that evening, director Chuck Dick -- who also plays the part of Scrooge in the production -- was pressed into service to raffle off the Beanie Baby bear.
To his surprise, it took three tries before anyone claimed the prize.
It was a wonderful opening to the holiday season.
The home of Betsy Beachum and her family -- which won a prize for the best religious display for a single-family house -- displays a dozen hand-painted wooden cutouts of the Nativity scene.
Her husband, Gary Beachum, says that Betsy has wanted to create a Nativity scene since they were married. But while their two children were young, the project was too difficult and time-consuming.
Then, two years ago, Betsy, who home-schools her son, Brad, 16, and daughter, Katie, 13, decided that they were old enough to enjoy the project.
It was a family project, Gary reports. Betsy enlarged and adapted drawings from heirloom children's books as a basic plan for the figures. The family photographed the drawings and projected the slides onto a wall to trace the final designs.
Betsy made some figures larger or smaller to create the illusion of depth.
Katie painted most of the figures, and her brother and father cut the 3-foot-tall characters out of plywood and made braces to support them.
By last year, the family had a complete Nativity scene, including an angel.
This year, they decided to fill out the scene with wise men, shepherds, sheep and a camel.
The camel has real fringe trappings and plastic jewels on its saddle. Textured paints were used to make the sheep look fluffy.
The family planned and executed the decorations before the Holiday Decorating Contest was announced. Betsy says they are a bit surprised at the attention they are getting.
"One lady even knocked at our door and apologized, saying she didn't [usually] do this," Betsy marveled, "but would we tell her where we bought it?"
Would they consider making another one?
The Beachums say no. It's time to move on to something else.
The family divided the prize money among its four members. Betsy reports that the children's share is to go to Christmas gifts.
Gary, who praised his wife and children for all their hard work in creating the Nativity, said the project was expensive. But he said he is glad they did it.
"We have had so many comments," he said. "With all the struggle and the strain, it's worth it to make people a little bit happy."