by Stan Cutler
Before there was a Witches & Wizards Weekend or a Garden or Fall Arts Festival on the Avenue, there was an event called Caroling at the Créche. 66 years ago, some neighbors found a patch of ground in front of a rundown mansion where no one objected to Christmas statuary, a nativity scene – a créche. The spot was a likely address for a nativity scene – at Bethlehem Pike where it intersects Germantown Avenue. The Wharton family estate sold the property in the mid-fifties and the lot has been zoned for commercial use ever since. Since the 1990s, it’s been owned by different banks. Nowadays, it’s a Santander.
Legend has it that those 1952 folks were powerfully motivated by the Germantown Avenue retailers, whose commercialization of Christmas was too crass for their liking. Those were tough times for the merchants because there was no place to park, so people were driving to suburban stores. It was the beginning of the retail crisis that obliterated the great downtown department stores. Chestnut Hill’s merchants responded to the crisis by agreeing to connect their back-alley properties as parking lots.
The original créche builders thought it would be nice to gather there with their friends and neighbors to sing carols on a weekday evening before Christmas. On Monday, December 17, it happened again for the 66th time. Sometimes it snows or sleets or blows bitter cold or does all three at once. No matter. There will be a caroling at the créche every year. It’s a thing.
By happy coincidence, the library is only a block away from the intersection, a fine place to retire for hot cider and neighborly camaraderie. If you missed it this year, stop by next year for the 67th iteration. The singing’s pretty good, backed by some talented local musicians. The Friends of the Chestnut Hill Library put out a nice spread in the Community Room to reward the singers and listeners alike. The Friends also start their Christmas book sale at the after-party, so you can pick up some great reading material after the songs. (BREAKING NEWS: you don’t have to wait until next year to buy our used books – we do it almost every Monday afternoon, year-round.)
This year, it was a dry, breezy evening with the temperature in the mid-40s. Starting at 7:30, about 75 of your neighbors sang with joy and enthusiasm. It was fun.
The Friends wish to thank the merchants who generously supported the event with their delicious donations: Baker Street Bakery, Barry’s Buns, Bredenbeck’s Bakery, Cake, Cheese Shop (The), Evergreen Cheese, Fresh Market, McNally’s, Roller’s Restaurants, Santander (musician space), Tavern on the Hill, The Night Kitchen, Top of the Hill, Weaver’s Way, and Zipf’s Candy. And special thanks to Friends of The Library volunteer Marlene Sider for coordinating the whole affair.
Stan Cutler is a member of the Friends of the Chestnut Hill Library board.