The beautifully refurbished nativity scene shown last year at Caroling at the Crèche at the Top of the Hill.

The beautifully refurbished nativity scene shown last year at Caroling at the Crèche at the Top of the Hill. (Photo by Rebecca Roller)

by Ruth R. Russell

A beloved Chestnut Hill tradition, Caroling at the Crèche, will return to the Top-of-the-Hill on Monday evening, December 23, at 7:30, with a touch of something new and something old.

“We are planning to change our song sheets,” beamed Janine Dwyer, co-chair of the event with fellow hairstylist Antoinette DuBiel for many years and leader of the singing.

What else is new?

Besides the song sheets, area residents will find a new name on the place where they carol, now Santander Bank, formerly Sovereign Bank. Dwyer reported that she has cleared the caroling arrangements with Vicky O’Connor, from Classic Management, owner of the building.

“Other things remain the same,” said Dwyer, expressing the hope that more children will come this year. “One of the disadvantages of an earlier date is that schools are still in session.

“We are hoping more young parents will bring out their kids as the time is early — 7:30 — and we have included a couple of children’s songs in the mix on our new song sheets.”

The setting for the caroling, the nativity scene, will be put in place on Monday, December 2, with figures that have been beautifully re-painted by Hugh McNamara, of Broken Art. Crèche figures include Mary, Joseph, the infant Jesus, three Wise Men, two shepherds and some animals.

McNamara has stored the entire crèche all year, and it will arrive fully assembled and ready to be unloaded and installed in place, according to Dwyer.

She is expecting to have the same musicians as last year:

Mickey Leone, Pat Kaufmann, David Kaufmann. Kitty Kelly, Mike Albrecht, Lizzie Edson, Paraic Neane and Steve Hastie. Most have participated for several years.

Afterwards, the Friends of Chestnut Hill Library will welcome all carolers to the local branch, at 8711 Germantown Ave.

“The caroling is really close to Christmas this year so it will certainly get people in the holiday spirit,” said Eleanor Murdoch, in charge of hospitality for the Friends. She reported that chilly singers would find hot beverages and cookies from local bakeries at the library.

Meanwhile, Caroling at the Crèche committee members are preparing. They include Paul and Becky Roller, from Roller’s Flying Fish; Jay Susanin, of Palladio Custom Frames, and Ginger Williams, formerly from Cafette.

“It is a great tradition,” said DuBiel, recalling that she had been involved with Caroling at the Crèche ever since she joined Janine at their current address. “We took over it from Rita Coyne (a Chestnut Hill merchant). I love it. It’s a wonderful event and we’re always looking for people to help continue it,’ she said.

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.

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