Correction: The print version of this story misstated the date of this event. It is Dec. 20, not Dec. 6.
Caroling at the Creche, a favorite Hill tradition that had gone uninterrupted for 50 years until Covid forced its cancellation last year, is back this year with a whole new twist.
Instead of gathering in the lobby of Santander Bank, which closed last year, organizers are planning to gather on the lawn of the Christ Ascension Lutheran Church at the corner of Germantown Avenue and Southampton Street for songs.
According to Janine Dwyer, who took over the organizing of the event in 1996, the church is a natural choice of venue because it had traditionally been where the community’s Circle of Trees celebration was held. After the singing, there will be cookies and hot cider on the lawn. The Chestnut Hill Library, where they used to gather for refreshments, no longer has available space.
“It is really a great fit,” said Dwyer.
Dwyer and Church Pastor Jay Mitchell, both concerned about keeping alive the simple and old-fashioned tradition, with its simple way of celebrating the birth of Christ, began talking over the idea in October.
“We want it to continue all the way to 2052, and reach its hundred year anniversary,” said Dwyer. “I’ll be 98 then, but if I can be there, I will!”
Caroling for the creche has a long and interesting history. It began in 1952, when Hill resident Peggy Hebard, concerned about what she saw as the commercialization of Christmas, organized a few volunteers to set up the nativity scene on the first Monday in December.
Eventually, Rita Coyne and Agatha Unger took over from Hebard. Coyne owned a women's apparel store in the 8400 block of Germantown Ave for many years and Unger was a seamstress there.
And now that small and inconspicuous group has grown to include Antionette and Edward DuBiel, Paul Roller, Becky Roller, Ginny Wilson-Williams and most recently Nancy Block. They just gather and do it, still the first Monday before Christmas - which this year falls on Dec. 20.
“It has always been great fun since Janine and I took over. It has been easy for us to do it because we work together too!' says Antoinette DuBiel.
“We have all become good friends in the process,” said Wilson-Williams. “We've been out there in some crazy weather for the set up and the caroling.” Ginny's children and grandchildren have attended the singing every year since she became involved. Many generations of families have done the same.
Patrick Kaufmann, Steve Hastie and Mickey Leone have played guitar for the event for many years. No one gets paid, there's no budget, the music just happens on the Monday before Christmas - unless it lands on Christmas Eve, in which case it’s the Monday before.
“Nancy and Charles Block's son, Joseph, an incredible pianist, joined us a few years ago,” said Dwyer. “Hopefully his concert schedule allows him to be there this year.”
The church vestibule is smaller than the old Santander bank’s, but there is enough room for a piano and two or three guitars.
“In the past there have been violins, flutes, drums of all kinds and bells,” said Dwyer. “The church has many wonderful singers and musicians so the Caroling at the Creche can continue and evolve.”
Pat Kaufmann, now a grandparent along with his wife Kathy, has also always provided the sound system and will do so again, Dwyer said. This year, the number of musicians will be smaller, so the set up of microphones and music stands will be a little easier.
Baker Street, Bredenbecks Bakery, Night Kitchen, Barry's Buns, Weavers Way and McNally's Tavern have provided refreshments for after the caroling in the past, Dwyer said, and she hopes that tradition will also continue. Paul Roller has agreed to provide the hot cider one more time, she said.
There has never been a rain [or snow] date. Carolers have shown up in every kind of weather.
“Hopefully that tradition continues too,” said Dywer.
If you would like to help set up the creche in the future, or make a delicious donation for the caroling night call Janine at 215 247 2909. You will be very welcome.