PULASKI — It may be a COVID Christmas, but Pulaski intends it will still be a Christmas after all, and though scaled back, the annual Light Up Pulaski and Memory Tree celebration will go on.
It will all come together Sunday, Dec. 6, with Santa, free hot dogs and cocoa, and the lighting of the Memory Tree in Pulaski’s South Park.
According to co-chair of the event, Tiffany Craig, Santa will appear on the gazebo’s bandstand at 1 p.m. Sunday and will visit there with local children until 3:30 p.m. But no sitting on Santa’s lap this year. He’ll be behind some sort of plexiglass structure and a façade painted by Alesia Wilson of Alesiafy. The children will be able to come up and speak to him from a distance.
“We tried to find a way to scale it back but still have Santa and those visits for the kids and still keep that Christmas spirit,” Craig said.
Masks are recommended even though the event is outside.
Free hot dogs and cocoa, donated by Tops, will be cooked by the Lions Club.
There will be eight Christmas trees lining the walks courtesy of H&H Christmas Tree Farm. The village strings lights on the trees.
Schoolchildren make animal-friendly (edible) decorations for the trees, which they decorate about a week before the event.
There will be a coloring contest. The picture will be posted to the event’s Facebook page, Light Up Pulaski. The winners will be announced on Sunday, Dec. 6. It is all sponsored by Jennifer Casler of Casler Creates, a graphic design firm.
Normally, the school band plays at the library, a choir sings at NBT Bank, The Night Before Christmas is read at the Historical Society, the Kallett Theatre usually has a craft show, and the Masonic Temple usually puts on a smaller craft show and Christmas ornament making for kids. All that is off this year.
The event is usually attended by about 300 to 400 people, Craig said.
Most years, donations are solicited from local businesses, but this year were not.
There will be a flyer posted on Facebook. It’ll also go to the schools, Craig said.
Craig has been co-chair of Light Up Pulaski with Robin Philips for the past five years. She expects she and Philips will co-chair again next year.
“It’s pretty scaled back,” Craig said of this year’s event, “but I think it will still get kids and families in the Christmas spirit and give them a little taste of normalcy.”
Charlotte DeGaetano will also make sure that sense of normalcy continues. She’s been in charge of Pulaski’s Memory Tree since 1993.
“The Memory Tree is in memory of my husband,” she said recently. “The Halfshire Historical Society of Richland, which I’m a member of, gave it in memory when my husband died five years ago. This is my 28th year. I started doing this in 1993. In 1991, my sister was killed in a car accident, and three weeks later, my father had a heart attack and died. It was the worst year of my life. The tree used to be in the North Park, ugliest tree in the world, with just a sign underneath with people’s names, very few names. There was no kind of celebration at the tree or anything. I left that park, I can’t tell you how disillusioned I was and upset to think that these people weren’t remembered.”
The next year she was told there wasn’t going to be a Memory Tree because no one would take charge of it.
“So I said, ‘I will take charge of the Memory Tree. I’ll collect the money, I’ll do the publicity, I’ll do everything for the Memory Tree.’ And that’s how I got started,” she remembered. “It helped me get through Christmas with my family. Christmas is very special to me. But that Christmas that my sister got killed, nobody got hardly any presents. The only one that got presents, I think, was my granddaughter. I didn’t want to celebrate with the family. It was just a horrible year for me. So, in ‘93 when I started the Memory Tree, I only had my father and my sister on it, and through the years, I’ve added another sister and my mother and many, many friends and relatives. And then, five years ago, my husband passed away, so, I remembered him. And last year, I had 716 loved ones remembered, and I collected $4,035. And every penny I collect goes to the local food pantries, like the Pulaski Food Pantry, Sandy Creek-Lacona, Rural Migrant Ministry in Richland has a small food pantry, the North Country Christian Church in Lacona – they have a soup kitchen. Pine Meadows Church has a food pantry. Amboy Center has a food pantry. So, those are the six food pantries. I wanted to make sure people in the APW system were covered, and people in the Pulaski system were covered, and the Sandy Creek system were covered. And every year, it gets bigger. Every year there’s more names. Sometimes there’s more money. I usually have around $4,000. I’m grateful for what I get. I don’t set any price amount. You could give me 50 cents, and I’d take it.”
The Memory Tree is “a pine tree, a 12-foot spruce, planted in memory of Frank DeGaetano,” Charlotte said. “It’s right in the center of the park. And the tree is all in amber yellow bulbs. I thought I read somewhere years ago that amber meant caring. It doesn’t look like any other tree in the park. It looks like it’s special.”
And next to the tree is a sign, hand-written by DeGaetano, of all those who are remembered. Last year’s 716 names took her a few days to complete. They’re listed alphabetically.
This year, of course, all celebrations have changed due to COVID. But DeGaetano still urged this celebration go on.
“I understand we have a pandemic,” she said, “but I think the village needs to decorate this park, and I think these people need to have this Memory Tree to remember their loved ones. And the food pantries really need the monetary donations, because they’ve all been put through a monetary strain this year.”
Usually, DeGaetano arranges for a band to play during the memorial. COVID’s canceled that. She’ll still do some readings and has arranged for a minister to give a blessing. Then they’ll light the tree at 4 p.m., “and that’s it,” she said.