By Ruth R. Russell
Caroling at the Crèche in Chestnut Hill will return on the Monday evening before Christmas at the Top of the Hill in front of the Nativity scene set up at Santander Bank.
Janine Dwyer, conductor of the music for many years, hopes that everyone will mark their calendars for Monday, December 18, at 7:30 p.m. Sheets of music will be provided, and afterwards carolers will be treated to hot beverages and cookies at Chestnut Hill Library.
“A neighbor who came to the caroling for the first time last year is an employee of Santander Bank, which I did not know when I left her an invitation to attend,” said Dwyer. “Natalia Dominguez Buckley is her name and her title is Community Partnerships Manager. Thanks to her we will have new song sheets this year, provided by Santander Bank.
“Musicians who have been faithful over the years will be back. Included are Pat Kaufmann and his son, Daniel, both on guitar; Steve Hastie, also on guitar, Mickey Leone on percussion, and Rick Stevens, also on guitar. Teenagers Joseph Block, is a pianist, and his brother, Jonathan, is also a pianist but plays percussion with this group,” said Dwyer.
“Other talented musicians over the years have included Kitty Kelly, who plays the Irish fiddle; her husband, Mike Albrecht, who usually plays the boron; and Lizzie Edson, a player of bells.”
Reminiscing for a few minutes she recalls being conductor of the caroling for many years, perhaps 29.
“Pat and Steve have been doing this for almost as long as I have. When I started with group Henry Cook, from St. Paul’s, was the conductor. I have been leading this group ever since I started in business and have been here every year except for when my children were very young
“The Caroling at the Crèche is so simple, separate from affiliations to committees. It’s an old fashioned idea with a meaning of its own,” she said.
Meanwhile, plans continue for this year’s Caroling program. The Nativity scene will be set up on Monday, December 4, and taken it down on Monday, January 8.
The backdrop for the caroling, the Nativity scene, will be put in place on Monday, December 4. The figures have been beautifully painted by Hugh McNamara and include Mary, Joseph, the infant Jesus, three Wise Men two shepherds and some animals.
Antoinette DuBiel, a fellow hair stylist and dedicated helper for many years, calls Caroling at the Crèche “a great continuing tradition for this community. Participants of all ages are welcome to come and carol. The Library has always been very good about serving refreshments afterward.”
From the beginning this volunteer organization has stood on its own, and is not connected to the Chestnut Hill Community Association. The tradition was begun by a few individuals after Mrs. Morgan (Peggy) Hebard suggested at a community meeting in 1952 that something should be done to counteract what she felt was the commercialization of the holiday.
Her concern struck a responsive chord, and since then the Friends of the Crèche have set up a nativity scene with lights and greens at the Top of the Hill each December.
Mrs. Hebard donated the original figures, and a manger framework was constructed. Nearby was placed a sign with a message written by the late Mary Wickham Bond, a Chestnut Hill resident and author, saying: “With fervent prayers for Peace on Earth, the Community of Chestnut Hill acclaims the Holy Birth of the Prince of Peace at Christmas Time.”
The first location for the crèche was in front of the Hill library, which had a disadvantage. Mrs. Hebard or a member of the committee had to get a key and enter the library after hours to turn lights off and on.
The following year, the nativity scene was moved to Pennsylvania Railroad Station (as it was then called) and later to the corner of Bethlehem Pike and Germantown Avenue.
Subsequently it was caught in stormy winds that swept through the little tableau and smashed three figures. So the crèche was moved to a more sheltered spot, in front of Intercounty Savings Bank, now Santander Bank, where it has remained.
For more information about Caroling at the Crèche, call Janine Dwyer at 215-247-2909.