by Joe DeGweck

The joyful moments of this holiday season are upon us once again, full of hopeful memories and enriched with family traditions that continue to bless our lives. Throughout our Western New York community, a series of diverse cultural activities transpire that share a common theme. Unity and peace, joy and happiness become the norm and the hustle and bustle of everyday life is set aside, momentarily, in order that we might enjoy our families and friends within the everlasting mores of an established and cherished way of life.

Just last week, many of us observed a Thanksgiving Day of celebration. In households throughout our community, we gathered to share with one another. Another year of events that have come to pass. Another year full of opportunities and challenges. Another year full of happy memories, along with sorrowful chronicles that are fated and certain to try our faith and test our spirit.

Together we sat around a table that offered not only the nourishment of good food, but most importantly, the sustenance of family support and the interaction of those we so cherish and love. Together we move toward a season of celebration that will empower our individual sense of being and deepen our commitment to one another with vigilance and fortitude.

It is tradition, which continues to be the driving force for such an auspicious way of life. The sharing and commitment made from generation to generation that enhance the character of a culture, the fortitude of a family. This article is about one such tradition that has been disseminated for centuries and just recently has been transformed into a new image. It has taken on a new appearance – one of life, full of energy and resounding with the spirit of hope. It provides a harmony that bestows to its listeners a fervent purpose and an unfettered resolve for life. It is The Living Singing Christmas Tree. Since 1971, this entertaining phenomenon has blessed our community with the beauty and grace that is synonymous with our holiday season.

For centuries, the evergreen tree has been revered as representing everlasting life and hope for the return of spring. It stayed green and alive all year ‘round as other plants went dormant or died. Many European cultures began traditions that centered around the evergreen tree. The Saxons decorated their trees with candles during festival time. The Romans exchanged evergreen branches as a sign of friendship and prosperity. In the 16th century, Christians began bringing them into their homes and decorating them, their triangular shape representing the Trinity. Prince Albert, Queen Victoria’s husband, brought the first Christmas Tree into Windsor Castle in 1841. In Pennsylvania during the 1830’s, the first recorded Christmas tree was sighted. Initially this tradition was not well received in early America. It was thought to be a Pagan practice. But as German ornaments were imported for decoration, Christmas trees soon became a fashionable trend. Today millions of families celebrate their holiday season, centered around a lighted and adorned tree in their home.

In 1962, Pastor James Andrews founded The Chapel. It started with a congregation of 5-6 people and today serves thousands throughout Western New York. During his tenure, he had the opportunity to attend a performance in California that featured a singing Christmas tree. In 1971 his congregation decided to feature this as a part of their celebration of the birth of Jesus Christ. It began as just some cemetery grass over scaffolding, and today has evolved into a steel structured frame that holds 106 choir members and is illuminated with 60,000 lights.

There is a play that takes place during the performance. Each year the story is different, but the theme remains the same. As Pastor Skip Hartman puts it, “It is the underlining theme of the Christmas story” but “we try to deal with real issues” that affect the everyday lives of our community. The production of this musical involves over 500 people, many of whom are committed volunteers for months of the year. Alan Dusel, the minister of music and arts; the late Carlo Annibale, who originally composed the music and whose wife, Doris, transposed it for the instruments; and Mark Bitikofer, the electrical and technical coordinator, are just some of the major contributors to this dramatic piece. There is a childcare center and parking lot attendants and caterers who feed the cast. There are stagehands and ushers who help coordinate the transition during the performance and between each performance.

This is a massive undertaking. “Whatever it takes to put on a production at Shea’s is exactly what we have here,” states Pastor Hartman. Thousands of people from all over the world will come to Western New York this December just to watch this performance. They will be blessed with a quality of entertainment that usually exceeds their expectations. And hopefully, as Pastor Hartman believes, they will be blessed with much more.

The Chapel at Cross Point also offers to our community ministries for all ages. After50 News would like to make our readers aware of the Golden Eagles, a ministry for those over 55 years of age. It offers fellowship and support to our seniors and has opened doors for many at their time of need. There are also women ministries and family ministries and even a college ministry. This is truly a sanctuary for all to find comfort and fellowship. So we invite you to come and view this phenomenal event, The Living Singing Christmas Tree. You can call for information at (716) 631-2676, or visit their webpage at

Let us also remember the other cultural events that enrich our community during this holiday season. Kwanzaa is a festival that welcomes the first harvest into the home. For many African Americans, it symbolizes their collective labors and honors their ancestral origins. It represents their hope, faith and love for one another and for mankind as a whole.

Hanukkah celebrates the rededication of the Temple of Jerusalem. This eight-day ceremony signifies the Miracle of the Oil. Candles are lit each night upon the menorah to remind passers-by of this holy day miracle. It symbolizes the perseverance of the Jewish people over adversity, and their dedication to God.

As our churches and synagogues continue to preserve the traditions of generations passed, let us commit and share with them and our fellow man the spirit of human kindness that is in us all. Every day in Western New York I witness this spirit in children and adults as they go about their daily lives. There is a candle burning in each one of us that will light the way to a better place in this world, as well as the next. Our festive holiday traditions are the fuel that will keep that candle burning for generations to come. Have a happy and safe holiday season and God bless.

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