Something old will be new again for one small town in Platte County this year. Yes, Dearborn. There is a Santa Claus.
The Dearborn Community Betterment Association diligently worked to revive “Christmas in Dearborn,” a once annual tradition that fell by the wayside in recent years. The memories about the celebration remain strong among those who have lived in Dearborn and remain there.
According to Raymond Swanstone, the event started around 1989 but slowly faded away during the previous decade.
“We had a huge tree every year,” said Swanstone, assistant fire chief for the Dearborn Area Fire Protection District. “My grandparents worked on Christmas in Dearborn year round. Every mailbox had a greenery arrangement on it. Almost every light pole in town had a homemade candy cane on it.”
The new won’t look completely like the old.
Dearborn plans to continue its Cookies with Santa event, which will run from 1 to 3 p.m. on Saturday, Dec. 3 at the Dearborn Area Fire Protection District Station. The traditional Christmas in Dearborn will be from noon to 4 p.m. at the Dearborn Community Center.
“We stepped up when nothing was going to happen,” said Swanstone, who helped start the Cookies with Santa event in 2009. “We started Cookies with Santa due to no Christmas in Dearborn.”
Christmas in Dearborn will feature local “small business” vendors on site for last minute shopping opportunities. There will also be games and a silent auction with proceeds going toward the Dearborn Community Betterment Association and other community events. For the kids, there will be barrel train rides for $1 each and a bouncehouse.
There’s also hope of a special SnapChat filter for the occasion.
The new will mix with the old, according to some in town. Memories shared on a community Facebook page helped to stir images of Christmas in Dearborn’s past.
There were hay bales and hot cocoa. Local school choirs and bands performed. Smokey the Bear and Santa Claus rode through town and made stops at local homes, many of which were decked out in holiday lights that attracted visitors from around the area.
“You’d be sitting there and he’d knock on your door and then come in to ask you if you’d been good and ask what you wanted for Christmas. Great memories,” Michelle Buckler-Dennis said.
There were also hand-baked goods and hot chocolate plus an “ornament lady,” who used to hand paint glass decorations.
“My family still hangs three of them on our tree every year,” Nicole Otto said.
Dearborn even had a Mayor’s Christmas Tree to serve as a centerpiece.
Each year, a tree from the local Girl Scout camp would be hauled into town and placed “on the corner across from Beauty Hut,” according to Jolene Hott. Cory Hott told of a time when Gene Long brought the tree into town on a grain truck with the mayor at the time — Hott’s dad — riding on top to push the limbs down to help make it under power lines.
Upon arrival into town, the mayor stood up and shouted, “Ho! Ho! Ho!” to an assembled crowd just as Long brought the truck to a stop. The mayor ended up falling through the tree into the truck bed.
All of the work led to a unique display that many fondly recall with the tree complementing the local decorated houses and vice versa.
“I remember how beautiful the mayor’s tree was when it was all lit up,” Otto said. “The lights. Oh my goodness, do I remember the lights. Dearborn was always lit up like the Fourth of July. When we would do the hay rides around town to look at all the houses beautifully lit, it would make us all so happy. That was my favorite part. I miss all the decorations and lights.”
With no tree this year, Shelby Morse, who just joined the Dearborn Community Betterment Association and helped to restart Christmas in Dearborn, started to look for a tree. Social media led to a donation with a tree set to be delivered the morning of Wednesday, Nov. 30.
Dearborn mayor Jamie Morey planned to have a lighting ceremony at 7 p.m. that night on the corner of Third and Delaware Streets. Others volunteered to do the decorations, including Karen Foster of the Dearborn Community Betterment Association.
The new Christmas in Dearborn can add to the event’s history. Swanstone has a binder full of old fliers and photos from the past that his grandmother Charlotte Swanstone collected.
“Grandma was very passionate about Christmas in Dearborn,” Raymond Swanstone said.
The passion is back at least for now. The Dearborn Community Betterment Association hopes to revive the tradition while keeping the Cookies with Santa event in what could become a new version of the old tradition.
“The fire department has done it for years and deserves to keep their tradition alive,” Shelby Morse said. “I want my kids to have something to look forward to each year. Kids who went to Christmas in Dearborn many, many years ago still talk about the joy it brought them. I want my kids to have those memories.
“I really hope people come out and make it worth it. The only way things like this will come back is if the community comes together.”