By Lisa DeChiara
My dad is remembered for Urban Renewal and what many people still refer to as the worst thing that ever happened to Morristown.
Forty-five years later, they still refer to it as “the beginning of the end.” Well, they may not like the (Headquarters Plaza) towers, or any other changes made in Morristown, but they can thank my father that Christmas on the Green still exists.
Collectively, we have thousands of fond memories of the Green decorated for Christmas. Generations of Morristown citizens have felt the joy of walking through the park and admiring the lights, the crèche, the Menorah, Santa’s house and, of course, the big rocking reindeer.
Most of us considered the magic of the Green at Christmas was a given. It has been and always will be. Many people don’t realize how close we came to losing this time-honored tradition.
In a meeting that took place in mid-1980, there was a discussion concerning the Green at Christmas time. The representatives for the Christmas on the Green committee proposed that 1980 Christmas on the Green would be the final one.
They asserted that the money wasn’t available and was not forthcoming. This would be the final year for Christmas on he Green. No Christmas lights, no creche, no Menorah and no Santa in his house visiting with the children.
My father was present when this discussion took place. He’d been a volunteer for Christmas on the Green in the past and he knew the roadblocks he would be facing. Still, having been born and raised in Morristown, this loss was inconceivable to him.
In his mind, the park at Christmas was not only part of Morristown’s storied past, but the tradition also held historic significance. It had taken place beginning in 1913, how could there be no lights after 68 years? The creator of Santa, as we know him today, Thomas Nast, and his family lived in Morristown for 30 years. How could there be no Santa?
My dad also had many years of personal memories, and he knew that many other families would also feel the loss. He argued to continue with the tradition using these points as well as the negative impact the loss would have on local businesses.
None of this swayed the decision makers. My dad volunteered to take over the effort and he proposed creating a nonprofit organization that would provide the vehicle to raise the funding for Christmas on the Green. It was agreed that he would become the Chairman for Christmas on the Green going forward, and that it was up to him to recruit volunteers, raise funding, plan, and execute Christmas on the Green.
My dad gathered the friends that he’d grown up with in Morristown and asked for help, and many of them said yes. He reached out to local construction, electrical, painting, landscaping, and plumbing companies and enough of them said yes. He even involved the local funeral director. Not only did he say yes, but subsequently he sent his son up to the Green to play Santa on the day that we had no Santa.
He reached out to the stores that surrounded and were close to the Green and asked for donations. Some said yes. He did what was possible to invest in advertising, fundraising, trees, lights, and all. Money was always tight for Christmas on the Green.
Despite all the fundraising efforts, the addition of the Christmas Parade and Santa lighting up the park every Black Friday, Christmas on the Green often ended the year in debt.
At the end of their workday, my dad, along with the many volunteers, worked many long days for most of the year to keep Christmas on the Green going. They faced a lot of adversity. Thefts, vandalism, the loss of storage space, a lawsuit, negative opinions in newspapers, loss of interest from merchants, and lower donations at least twice more left the volunteers facing the decision to continue or stop.
With the knowledge that Christmas on the Green meant something important to more people than to those who were detractors, they always chose to continue.
One year my dad and a friend who also was involved with Christmas on the Green went together to purchase the trees. Christmas on the Green didn’t have the funding for the trees.
Much to his friend’s amazement, my father purchased 20 Christmas trees for the park with his own money. This was in no way a single occurrence. I know that whenever he could, my father dug into his pocket and paid for whatever was needed that day.
My dad, Raymond B. DeChiara, remained the chairman for Christmas on the Green for 18 years, until it was absorbed by Morristown Partnership in January of 1999. He could not have done this alone, but had he not stood up that day in 1980, and had he not persevered, Christmas on the Green would be gone.
My father always loved Christmas. He wanted nothing more than to be with his family and cook a huge meal for them on Christmas! This time of year, I find myself thinking of my dad and all the wonderful memories of our Christmases together and of the joy that is Christmas on the Green.
Raymond B. DeChiara was born, was raised, went to school, worked, and raised his family in Morristown. Never living more than one mile from the Green. He served in WWII as an engineer gunner on the B-29.
He spent the rest of his life serving Morristown, first as an officer in the Morristown Police Department, then Morristown’s retail tax collector, and finally as the executive director of urban renewal.
This final position spanned the administrations of Mayors David Manahan, Marco Stirone, Victor Woodhull, Donald Cresitello, Emilio Gervasio, and a second term of David Manahan. His final years were spent in Scottsdale AZ, but his love for Morristown remained in his heart always.
Lisa DeChiara was born and raised in Morristown, New Jersey and is the fourth generation of her family to live in Morristown. She had a 30-plus-year career in technologies in Morristown and eventually Phoenix AZ. Lisa now lives with her husband on the South Shore of Massachusetts, just 30 minutes south of Boston and 20 minutes from the Atlantic Ocean. This provides her with easy access to visit her family and friends on the East Coast. She has three children and five granddaughters.
Opinions expressed in commentaries are the authors’, and do not necessarily reflect those of this publication.