WASHINGTON PARK — The Washington Park Christmas tree has been felled by anonymous Grinches in recent years.
But this year will be different, neighbors have vowed.
In 2019, a driver mowed down the tree days before Christmas. In 2020, a banner at the base of the tree was vandalized days after being installed at Garfield Boulevard and King Drive — then someone set the tree on fire after Christmas.
Last year, it was set on fire again, with the blaze happening only hours after the lighting ceremony.
The tree is back at the well-lit intersection of Garfield and Michigan avenues this year. Donna Hampton-Smith, Washington Park Chamber of Commerce president, said more than 200 people turned out for a Dec. 4 event there. They caroled, made holiday cookies and took photos with Dreezy Claus.
“We put out a call to action to all of our Washington Park neighbors to just keep an eye out and report any suspicious activity to 911,” Hampton-Smith said.
The chamber has also asked local police officers to keep an eye on the tree, Hampton-Smith said.
Hampton-Smith said she’s received offers from neighbors to stand watch, donating a couple hours of their time each week to ensure the 10-foot fir lasts the season.
Making the tree’s safety a community effort really makes all the difference, Hampton-Smith said.
“It’s a Washington Park community Christmas tree, but it symbolizes so much more than that. It symbolizes families coming together, community organizations coming together, businesses, clergy and seniors all coming together to support having a Christmas tree in their own backyard,” Hampton-Smith said.
Washington Park resident Stephanie Hall said attending the tree-lighting ceremony with her younger son is something she will always cherish.
There was a time when the tree would be erected in the cover of night with little fanfare, Hall said. Having have an event where neighbors can gather and meet creates a real sense of community, she said.
“It means a lot. … People really showed up and showed out,” said Hall, who’s lived in Washington Park for 22 years.
Hall was also one of the lucky winners of a holiday raffle hosted by the chamber at the tree-lighting event, where over 200 toys were also given away.
The chamber is planning another special event Saturday at the Park Supper Club, 65 E. Garfield Blvd., where students from nearby Carter Elementary will be treated to a holiday brunch and a shopping trip. Hampton-Smith hopes neighbors will help make the day an unforgettable one by donating to the effort.
To find out where you can send your monetary donation, contact the chamber at WPCDHS@GMAIL.COM.