Christmas on the Square’s origins

A Sunbury Bicentennial Article

By Polly Horn - For The News

Chris Hale drove Charlie Hale’s, back to camera, horses pulling the Yule log through the parade and onto Sunbury Square in 1982.

Because You Asked …

When Sunbury Town Hall was dedicated in 1868, oysters were served.

Sunbury missed celebrating Town Hall’s 100th Birthday, but since the library was housed in the building 10 years later, in 1978, Community Library Friends decided to celebrate Town Hall’s Centennial with an Oyster-Chili Supper.

In 1981 the Oyster-Chili affair moved into the K of P Hall and became the Feast of St. Nicholas, named for the saint who performed miracles. Merchants brought Santa to stores to visit with the children the week before Christmas so that seeing St. Nicholas would not confuse the children when he led the diners to the Lighting of the Christmas Tree on Village Square.

For many years, Dr. Paul Milem played St. Nicholas, and more recently Dave Martin has done the honors.

While Town Hall’s structure was being worked on in 1982, Community Library moved into the storefront at 20 South Vernon Street. The Hanging of the Greens on the first Saturday in December had been a popular program in the library for many years, so Community Library Director Rachel Edwards took the program to the storefront, providing refreshments as a thank you to library patrons.

Village Garden Club, O.C.C.L. clubs, and Library Friends decorated the square, while Big Walnut High School Art Department students painted store windows. Community Library Friends invited all the merchants stay open, and a parade began the evening’s festivities.

John Faber’s Boy Scout Troop 247 followed Chris Hale driving Charlie Hale’s horses pulling a Yule log to the square and had a piñata for children to hit. Girl Scouts hosted a Moravian Love Feast in the Myers Inn to add to the program. The Moravian Love Feast was based on a 1727 tradition of Christians celebrating love, peace, and goodwill with each other.

Other Girl Scouts decorated 12 Christmas trees from different countries. The late Christie Manor of Sunberry Antiques added Roger Roberts as Town Crier and a Living Nativity to the festivities. Community Library Friends added luminaries to the walks on the Square. The village turned on the Christmas Tree lights while the library passed around candles and all sang carols around the tree to close the evening.

The event became known as Christmas-on-the-Square. One year Christmas-on-the-Square fell on Pearl Harbor Day. Two men stood at the tree with lighted candles and tears running down their faces as they remembered the Day That Will Live in Infamy. I waited with them. We did not speak, but about 10 p.m. the candles burned down and we silently left.

Many changes to the evening have evolved over the years. Today, most of the businesses surrounding the square are open, serve refreshments, and many offer entertainment. Christmas-on-the-Square became so popular the Santa visit was dropped, so 29 years ago Rick Helwig grew a beard and became the town Santa. The Sunbury/Big walnut Area Chamber of Commerce added carriage rides and a lighted parade.

The Myers Inn has remained true to the original Christmas-on-the-Square and sees it as a time to say thank you to those who patronize us throughout the year. The museum will be open from 4 p.m. to 8 p.m. serving refreshments, while museum docents answer questions about the exhibits and some will demonstrate crafts of yesteryear. Once again, the brass band made up of OSU alumni will play on the Myers Inn Museum porch.

This year, Rick Helwig will portray Thomas Nast’s Santa Claus of the Civil War era in the Inn. Nast was an illustrator for Harpers Weekly during the Civil War. His homey scenes were very popular, allowing readers to see soldiers celebrating Christmas, as well as those left at home missing the soldiers.

Nast’s first Santa Claus illustration in 1862 showed Santa Claus in Camp passing out gifts to the soldiers from his sleigh pulled by reindeer, similar to Clement Moore’s 1823 poem, The Night Before Christmas. In the illustration Santa is wearing a cape of stars over his suit. Each year Harpers Weekly readers looked forward to Nast’s Christmas illustrations.

Dobbie Gallagher, the Community Library chair of the Feast of St. Nicholas in 1981, reminded people in the community they had performed many miracles with their love, their prayers, and by helping their neighbors.

Although the feast no longer exists, that spirit lives on in today’s Village of Sunbury Christmas on the Square. Be sure to visit Sunbury Square the first Saturday in December to take part in an old fashioned celebration and add to your memories.

And Now You Know …

Chris Hale drove Charlie Hale’s, back to camera, horses pulling the Yule log through the parade and onto Sunbury Square in 1982. Hale drove Charlie Hale’s, back to camera, horses pulling the Yule log through the parade and onto Sunbury Square in 1982.
A Sunbury Bicentennial Article

By Polly Horn

For The News

Horn is the Myers Inn Museum Curator.

Horn is the Myers Inn Museum Curator.