Cranbury residents enjoy tree lighting with activities and caroling

Cranbury's 2019 Tree Lighting in front of the Cranbury Firehouse on Dec. 6. STAFF/ANDREW HARRISON

The Cranbury Firehouse was a buzz with children and families when the community kicked off the holiday season with the annual Christmas Tree Lighting.

The Tree Lighting featured a winter festival by the Cranbury Girl Scouts, hot chocolate by the Woman’s Club of Cranbury, and caroling with Dorothy Klotzbeacher, known as “Mrs. K.”

Inside the firehouse garage on Dec. 6, Cranbury Girl Scouts organized a Winter Festival. The festival included craft stations, a balloon artist, games and pictures with picture also being taken with Disney’s “Frozen” movie characters Elsa and Anna.

“A lot of planning was involved, but is it about bringing the community together,” Catherine Verhelle, co-organizer of Girl Scouts’ Winter Festival. “This helps our brownie troop really communicate with the community and have a little fun. This event brings winter cheer.”

The Girl Scouts’ portion of the evening took months of planning, according to Verhelle.

“This is our first time leading this event. We are thrilled with the community’s help. A lot of local businesses donated prizes and items,” said Wendy Gunderman, co-organizer of Girl Scouts’ Winter Festival.

The Girl Scout troops went with a different approach when planning this year’s festival.

“Traditionally this event has been mostly games and crafts. We felt this year, that it would be a lot of fun to up the ante a little, so we went with the festival theme,” Gunderman said. “We have a balloon artist, we have characters, a DJ and music, cookies and hot chocolate and a raffle.”

Both Gunderman and Verhelle said they believe the idea of community shined through their evening event.

“We hope people get the sense of coming together as a community. This is a way for us to come together as a small town and support our businesses, the Girl Scouts and our school,” Verhelle said.

The Girl Scouts earned their “Meet the Customer” badges during the evening event and “Fun Holiday Event” badges.

“This is a real Hallmark movie. We had family visit last year and they said this is what Hallmark is,” Cranbury Mayor James Taylor said. “This is Cranbury coming together and I can see residents I know who are not Christian and are participating. This is what small town is.”

Before the tree lighting, Cranbury families made their way from the new firehouse’s garage to the old firehouse’s garage, both located a 2 South Main St. From there, a community tradition of singing and caroling with began.

The singing and caroling was led by Klotzbeacher. She has led this tradition in Cranbury for 40 years.

“[Klotzbeacher] was my kindergarten teacher; she is an institution,” Taylor said. “I have a horrible singing voice and she, for some reason, is able to get me to stand up and sing once a year.”

Families filled the inside garage of the old firehouse and as the Cranbury Brass Band played, they would go on to sing “Deck the Hall,” “Joy To The World,” “O Christmas Tree” and “Jingle Bells.” On the night of the tree lighting, the community went on to sing 11 songs to kick off the holidays.

When the tradition began 40 years ago, the town would sing in Village Park. The one problem that occurred was there were no lights.

“We had flashlights, no auxiliary lights at all. There were no song sheets or music accompaniment, or order and no PA system,” Klotzbeacher said. “The community gets so involved. Families ask if they can lead a song.”

She said it is her pleasure to celebrate the holidays with all of the families and residents to begin the season.

“When we light that tree it is a moment of glory for the town. There is an old-timey fellowship here in Cranbury and we have a very tight knit community family,” Klotzbeacher said. “We do this together.”

After the caroling, families in Cranbury surrounded the tree donned with lights, next to the old firehouse, which was then lit to kick off the holidays in town.