LIMA — It was early January 1951, and for most people in Lima the holidays were over. The last Christmas gifts had been opened, the final piece of fruit cake devoured, the New Year’s hangover a fading painful memory.
That year, however, there was a new event on the holiday calendar.
“They burned the Christmas trees Sunday in Schoonover Park,” the News wrote Jan. 8, 1951. “More than 1,000 pairs of eyes glistened and sparkled as fire Chief Walter L. Hydaker touched off a pyre of 1,500 discarded trees in Lima’s first Twelfth Night ceremony. As the blazing trees lit the sky, strains of ‘Adeste Fidelis’ and ‘Silent Night’ brought to a close the holiday season.”
In the middle of the 20th century Lima had resurrected a tradition from an earlier century, as the News explained in an editor’s note at the top of a Jan. 5, 1951, story written from the perspective of a Christmas tree headed for that pyre. “Twelfth Night, Epiphany or Little Christmas — all the same — occurs on Saturday, Jan. 6. Originally a church holiday, in the East commemorating the baptism of Christ, in the West the adoration of the infant savior, it developed into a carnival during the Middle Ages and largely was abandoned. In recent years, several Ohio cities have observed it as the day on which discarded Christmas trees are burned. Lima plans such an observance Sunday.”
The burning of the Christmas trees actually was not Lima’s first Twelfth Night observance, although most early observances hewed closely to the day’s religious roots. Early observances were mostly held in churches and commemorated the visit of the Magi to the infant Jesus in Bethlehem.
“Friday evening, January 6th, the Epiphany or ‘Manifestation of Christ to the Gentiles,’ there will be a service at the Episcopal Church with a lecture at 7 o’clock,” the Lima Daily Times noted Jan. 5, 1888. On Jan. 5, 1894, the Lima Times-Democrat wrote that “tomorrow being the festival of the Epiphany there will be a celebration of the Holy Communion in Christ Church at 9:30 o’clock a.m.”
Late in the 19th century, presentations of Shakespeare’s “Twelfth Night or What You Will,” written to be performed as Twelfth Night entertainment, gained popularity in Lima, although not as Twelfth Night entertainment.
Reminiscing in The Lima News on Sept. 3, 1935, reporter Tex DeWeese reckoned “it was a big night when the noted actress, Julia Marlowe, made her first appearance in Shakespeare’s ‘Twelfth Night’ at the Faurot on Thursday evening, Oct. 16, 1890.”
The English-born Marlowe was known for her interpretations of Shakespeare. “Few women have been more universally praised by the dramatic writers of this country than has been Miss Marlowe,” the Daily Times wrote on Oct. 15, 1890, on the eve of her performance.
In June 1913, Lima Federation of Women’s Clubs tried their hand at the play. The June 13, 1913, Lima Daily News urged early purchase of tickets to the production of “Twelfth Night” at the Faurot Opera House, priced at 25 cents and 50 cents. “Owing to the personnel of the cast there will be many theatre parties and club women here from all nearby towns,” the paper noted.
As the holiday season approached in early December 1915, News society columnist Ruth Margaret Parrett suggested her readers take time during the season to “give for an altruistic project.” Parrett added that “although preparations for the busy holiday season grow apace, social life is not wholly forgotten and while there are announcements of dances for Twelfth Night, there are also some social affairs scheduled for the present week as well.”
Despite the dances and other Twelfth Night events, Jan. 6 as mainly observed in churches until Lima torched the Christmas trees in 1951. “Twelfth Night services, which have become an annual event during the last few years, will be held again this year at Schoonover Park,” the News reported Dec. 29, 1953.
Lima gained company in the observance that season as both Bluffton and the Shawnee Grange sponsored “Burning of the Greens” events based on an old English custom. In Bluffton, the Girl Scouts sponsored a tree burning but added another medieval touch.
“Another phase of the Twelfth Night custom is that of placing a bean or coin in a cake and passing cakes out to the celebrants, the person receiving the bean then becomes the reigning monarch of the festivities,” the News explained Jan. 4, 1955, the second year of Bluffton’s event. “This also is observed in the Girl Scout celebration, with the girl receiving a bean in a cake becoming queen of the occasion.”
Boy Scouts in St. Marys and the Village of Spencerville also held “Burning of the Greens” events around the Jan. 6 observance in the 1950s. Although most of the Christmas tree burnings died out by the mid-1960s, the Bluffton Girl Scouts still were sponsoring a Christmas tree burning and searching for the bean in the cupcake in 1974.
At the dawn of the 21st century another Jan. 6 custom with deep roots came to Lima when Father Mark Hodges of St. Stephen the First Martyr Orthodox Church began blessing the waters of a local reservoir. This year, after a 10:30 a.m. service at the church, 3560 Shawnee Road, church members will meet at 12:30 p.m. at Bresler Reservoir for the Great Sanctification of Waters.
“Epiphany is one of the greatest feasts of the Twelve Great Feasts of the Orthodox Church,” a press release from the church states. “Among Orthodox Christians, Epiphany is the Feast of the Lord’s Baptism, a celebration of the public manifestation of the incarnate Word to the world, and a revelation of the Holy Trinity.”
At the church “the water that is blessed is sprinkled on the people present, on the walls of the church and later in members’ homes,” according to the release. The faithful then “meet outdoors to celebrate the Great Sanctification of Waters, blessing the water of the entire community.”
Reach Greg Hoersten at TLNinfo@civitasmedia.com.