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Community Christmas Magic

Charlie Brown Train Display

Springfield Farm's "Charlie Brown Christmas" Celebrates The Spirit Of The Season

Story by Jane Schmidt and photos by Tearza Knode

What happens when you combine truckloads of donated, discarded Christmas trees and decorations, the time and talent of Williamsport community citizens and business owners, and a large restored, historic barn? The answer is a huge, cheery dose of wondrous Christmas magic and spirit in the form of the annual Charlie Brown Christmas event at the Barn at Springfield Farm in Williamsport.

This holiday season marks the event’s ninth year, which began when then-council members Joan Knode and daughter-in-law Tearza Knode were checking out the barn after the employees and WWII event committee had cleaned it for the first WWII weekend in the fall of 2009. “Tearza asked, ‘What if we ask people for their old artificial Christmas trees and recycle them by decorating the barn for the holidays?’” recalls Joan. “With a phone call to WJEJ radio station’s ‘Phone Party’ with Lou Scally, the idea bloomed, and the fun began!”

The broadcasted request garnered 35 donated trees along with recycled lights and decorations from generous listeners, friends, and neighbors. Eighteen of those trees were “adopted” by local organizations, businesses, Williamsport High School, and families to decorate.

The event’s name came about after Tearza discovered a donated tree with lots of missing wire branches and a crude wooden base. “It really was a Charlie Brown tree and represented our purpose of rescuing homeless trees. It’s still with us and has stayed the course as part of our founding trees. We top it with a big ball and spotlight it. It’s not the prettiest, but it’s gotten a lot of love over the years — many folks look for it each year,” Tearza shares.

Today, the Charlie Brown Christmas event has grown to include 100-plus trees sponsored and decorated by volunteers from local businesses, school classes, churches, families, and organizations. The event was even featured on a special holiday program, “Christmas in Maryland,” in 2013. It attracts thousands of annual visitors, including many bus tours. “We offer our trees each year to decorate. There is no charge to participate in tree decorating and it’s free to attend. It’s the town of Williamsport’s way of sharing the Christmas spirit,” explains Joan.

Part Of Community History

The Barn at Springfield Farm is one of the largest in Maryland and was built circa 1755 by Williamsport founder Otho Holland Williams. It was purchased by the town of Williamsport in 1987 via an Open Space Grant with the goal to preserve its historic past while making the barn part of Williamsport’s current-day community life.

As Williamsport’s assistant mayor, Joan’s council is town buildings, and the Springfield Barn became a passion. Through the combined efforts of Joan working with the Town Council, town employees, volunteers, and the support of her family, the historic barn once again became a vital part of community life. It features the Town Museum of Williamsport, gardens by the Potomac Garden Club, Remembrance Garden, community concerts, and events, and is recognized as a premier event venue in Washington County. The Springfield Farm grounds are now part of the Journey Through Hallowed Ground Living Legacy Tree Planting Project honoring Civil War soldiers.

A Growing Christmas Wonderland 

Since its inception, the Charlie Brown Christmas event has collected enough trees and decorations to fill three donated tractor trailers. “Meritus Health donated numerous decorations used in their ‘Festival of Trees’ and we inherited the ‘Reindeer in the Rafters.’ We also acquired handed-down Valley Mall decorations, including ‘Buster the Talking Bear’ and Santa’s House,” shares Joan. “Each year the decorations keep coming.”

Countless folks like Darlene and Brant Ridenour have donated items through the years. “My father-in-law loved Christmas,” Brant remembers. “He bought new decorations every year. When he passed, we thought it would be nice for others to enjoy their sparkle and magic.” Darlene and her mother, Margaret Bodkin, donated many stuffed teddy bears, cats, and Boyd’s Bears, and the larger lions, tigers, bears, and pups enjoy a place of honor surrounding Buster.

Town Museum volunteer Connie Rupp enjoys decorating trees and observing yearly festivities. “It’s nice to see it all come together, from the groupings of undecorated trees to finished trees depicting specific themes. It’s breathtaking to watch the smiles on kids’ faces and their eyes widen with wonder.”

Bountiful Yuletide Splendor 

The Charlie Brown Christmas event offers up plentiful servings of Christmas spirit. Tearza coordinates the tree vignettes, creating meandering pathways throughout the barn amidst the festive lights and cheery holiday décor, and the Williamsport Community Jazz Band drops by to share the music of the season.

Many local businesses and people make it a tradition to participate each year. Charles “Moe” Mozingo of Hagerstown’s The Train Room sets up a special Charlie Brown-themed train layout complete with buildings, nativity figures, and Lionel Charlie Brown train. “There’s over 100 Charlie Brown items. It’s quite heartwarming to see people enjoying it,” he shares.

Desert Rose Café’s Alan Redding loves celebrating Christmas and giving back to the community through his signature, artistically-clever trees. “It’s designed to bring joy to people. For many who visit from area nursing homes, it’s the highlight of their Christmas.” Mary Campbell created a hockey-inspired Capitals-themed tree last year. “We had one tree without a theme, so I decided to do a Capitals tree, since we had Ravens and Orioles themed trees.”

Community Camaraderie 

Community organizations like Red Hatters and Williamsport Garden Club sponsor trees yearly, as do local schools. “Our preschool students create special artwork to decorate their tree,” explains Tearza, director of Kinder Haven Day Care. “They get a real charge out of seeing it displayed.”

Santa’s House is popular with young and old alike. Roger Grimes loves participating as the event’s Santa. “I love meeting the kids and seeing parents who visited as kids now bringing their children. It’s a multi-generational tradition for many families.” Bev Knode, Joan’s daughter-in-law and Mrs. Claus, makes sure families get photos and all kids get an opportunity to visit Santa. “Santa visits with all kids no matter what their age. I love seeing the reactions of kids and adults attending for the first time. Their excitement brings me great joy,” says Bev.

In addition to themed trees, there are many inventive “anchor” trees, including traditional sleigh and wedding trees featuring pictures of couples married at the Barn. “It’s fun to see couples look for their wedding pictures to show their children,” shares Mary.

Other anchor trees include a “Community Prayer Tree.” The Williamsport Elementary, Middle, and High schools participate with the Blue Band, Green School Class, and all sports- and cheerleading-themed trees. An all-time favorite is “Father John’s Crab Tree” decked out with crabs, crab lights, crackers, Natty Boh cans, and featuring an Old Bay tin as the star. Father John Jicha of St. Augustine’s, St. Joseph’s, and St. James grew up in Baltimore and enjoys sharing some of his favorite memories.

Each year reveals new and exciting holiday decorating twists. “There are all types of decorations, from those pertaining to local businesses to family-sponsored trees featuring multi-generational photos of loved ones,” shares Joan. Alan adds, “You can visit different days and see new things. It’s a magical Christmas wonderland where our community comes together and spreads peace, love and joy to all who visit.”