As the odometer rolls over on the New Year on Thursday night, Bartowans (and any residents of neighboring communities who care to join us) will celebrate this annual milestone in a unique fashion.
It is a tradition that dates back to 1936. It has changed in a few ways from year to year, but this is the first time our Christmas tree burning will be broadcast on radio.
In this era of pandemic-inspired virtual activities and the need to maintain social distancing, we are encouraging spectators to watch from the comfort of their cars, and to listen to the narration over their radios.
As one who has repeatedly urged people to wear masks and maintain social distancing, I could not in good conscience urge people to sit shoulder-to-shoulder on bleachers to hear the MC tell the history of our event. And since the MC has been me for nearly a quarter-century, it fell to my responsibility to maintain both the tradition and social distancing.
I asked my long-time friend Tom Thornburg, owner of Radio Station WBF, if he and his son Jeff would broadcast my spiel over his station (1130 AM, 102.9 FM). He immediately said yes.
In addition to keeping our visitors socially distanced, it will give you the opportunity to run your heater if it’s cold, or your AC if it’s hot.
Here’s a brief summary of the history of this event.
Why does Bartow burn its discarded Christmas trees on New Year's Eve? Because we've been doing it since 1936, which is reason enough for traditionalists.
Nye Jordan, a veteran volunteer fireman, began Bartow’s tradition, asserting that it was bad luck to have a Christmas tree in the house on New Year’s Day. In the days before the invention of tree stands that held water, Christmas trees got drier than a prairie dog’s paws in the desert in July, and represented a real fire hazard by New Year’s Day. Bad luck indeed.
My Dad had a well-earned reputation for the gift of gab, and some folks say I inherited a little of it. He was MC for the tree-burning for several decades.
It was 24 years ago that he asked me to fill in for him when he developed a cold on New Year’s Eve. A year later he suggested that I take over the job. I was not surprised. That makes me a recent arrival to the event, given that Eda Marchman is in her 45th year as chairperson, give or take a year.
The height of Bartow’s pile of discarded trees has diminished over the years, given the increasing popularity of artificial trees. But the event is still popular enough to draw a pretty good crowd to the south end of Mary Holland Park at 6:30 p.m. every New Year’s Eve.
Regular attendees may have just about memorized my spiel by now, since it changes little from year to year.
For instance, I tell why the event was staged in its original location for only one year; why the event was suspended during World War II; and the marvelous idea I had for a special tree burning when the calendar rolled over to the year 2000. Unfortunately, I was the only one who recognized what a fantastic idea it was.
But the history of our tree burning is much longer than this column, and you are invited to come hear it recounted yet again on Thursday night — New Year’s Eve — at 6:30. This year for the first time Lloyd Harris, Bartow’s premier historian (and another long-time friend), will help me with the narration.
While a few visitors traditionally bring lawn chairs, this year you can enjoy the whole thing from the comfort and safety of your car. If you’re coming in a golf cart (you know who you are) pull up next to a friend and eavesdrop on their car radio.
One other thing: it is an important tradition to chuckle at my anecdotes each New Year’s Eve, even if you’ve heard them many times before.
(S. L. Frisbie is retired. As to laughing at his same anecdotes year after year, it can be done. His children have been doing it for all their lives.)