Cumberland Times-News

Opinion

November 29, 2012

Volunteers, supporters saved our tradition

The Nativity and Tree display in downtown Cumberland is right where it should be for the third consecutive year now because of the efforts of a small committee of volunteers and a host of passionate supporters!

From sometime in the 1920s until the 2009-2010 season, this display was sponsored by the city of Cumberland. The annual tree-lighting ceremony was held there at Washington and Greene streets until around 1980, when it was relocated to the corner of Baltimore and Liberty streets.

The role of Emmanuel Episcopal Church throughout the years has been to grant permission to use their grounds. The church has the Nativity scene captured in a photograph dated 1932 and on a commemorative plate dated 1952.

Christmas 2009 was a time of controversy. In Chambersburg, Pa., there was a 20-year tradition of a private garden club owning a Nativity scene which volunteers erected at the fountain in the town square in front of the courthouse.

When an atheist group asked for permission to erect a sign celebrating the solstice, the borough council denied that request and ordered the immediate dismantling of the Nativity scene erected one week earlier.

A petition was launched and a protest march drew over 200, but the end result was the relocation of the Nativity scene across the square to the grounds of the Presbyterian Church.

In Chambersburg, the controversy was over a private group erecting a religious display on public property.

The case was the reverse in Cumberland. Here, the 80-year-old tradition involved a religious display owned by the Mayor and City Council, stored in a city warehouse, and erected by city employees on the grounds of a church.

At a time when the city was devastated by severe cuts in state funding, two individuals threatened to sue the city over the tradition.

The former city administrator announced to Parks and Recreation staff in December 2009 that when they dismantled the display in January 2010, the tradition would end.

That’s when our “Cumberland Nativity and Tree Display Committee” was formed. Gary Bartik, Greg Getty, Rueben Lease, Ed Mullaney, and I joined together and formulated two goals: 1) to see that the tradition continued; and 2) to do so quietly without community controversy.

Our efforts last year were supported by 49 different donors, including 31 from Cumberland; four from LaVale; three from Ridgeley, W.Va.; and one each from Cresaptown; Frostburg; McCoole; Bloomington; McHenry; Friendsville; Fort Ashby, W.Va.; Winchester, Va.; Haymarket Va.; Dillsburg, Pa.;, and Jacksonville, Fla.; most coming with Christmas cards and encouraging notes!

We have a federal Employer Identification and a business checking account. We have raised $6,040 in donations and had $5,227.61 in total expenses last year.

We begin this season with a fund balance of $812.39, which is more than enough to pay the electric bills for several seasons yet to come. However, we would like to raise funds for repairs and improvements.

For example, last year’s biggest expense was $3,435.07 for new C9-LED lights (2,000 bulbs!), and $900 for Earth & Tree of Frostburg to prune the large pine tree and string the new lights — at half cost as their contribution.

Any individual or business or civic group who would like to contribute towards our efforts may do so by making a check payable to “Cumberland Nativity & Tree Committee,” and mail it to 101 Oak Street, Cumberland, Maryland 21502. All donors receive a receipt and a detailed financial report at the end of the season.

The kind of community spirit displayed in the generous support of this old tradition is truly something to celebrate!

Michael Mudge

Cumberland

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