Photo Gallery | Pittsfield tree lighting at Park Square
PITTSFIELD — What makes the Christmas tree a successful holiday centerpiece for the city?
If you ask Pittsfield Park Supervisor Anthony "Tony" Stracuzzi, he'll tell you anchoring pipes, guide wires with U-clamps and a few hundred yards of string lights and extension cords. That, and a lot of generosity from the community.
Since he was 23 years old, Stracuzzi, now 64, has had a hand in putting up the city's Christmas tree each December. On Friday night, he helped light his 41st Christmas tree before quietly slipping away from the twinkling scene to enjoy the peace of the rest of the evening.
Some aspects have changed over the years, he said, like the type of evergreen, the electrical plan to do the lighting and the types of bulbs used to set it aglow.
"When I first started, we used the bigger bulbs, but vandals would break the bigger ones so we switched to the smaller household kind," Stracuzzi said.
Another aspect of the tradition, which has become more challenging to fulfill over the years, is finding a good range of interested tree owners with firs that fit the criteria of being Park Square worthy.
The tree needs to be at least 35 feet tall on a property that city park crews can easily access. The tree must also have a robust or stately aesthetic, with full enough branches to support the weight of the lights and endure the potential weight and wear of heavy snow or winter winds.
The search for a landmark tree typically begins in the fall, when the parks department compiles a list of potential donors and addresses. Then they make site visits to all locales on the list.
"It's interesting because some people just want trees out of their yards and for it to not cost anything. So you go and show up to find they have a real Charlie Brown looking tree. But you still look, and then move on," Stracuzzi said.
"Some years, we've knocked on people's doors and we get lucky that they want to donate. Some didn't know about the search and are glad to donate. Some people donate in their parents' names or in memory of someone," he said.
This year's Christmas tree, a white spruce, was donated by the Lyman family of Pittsfield, and erected last month by a five-member city crew.
"We're grateful, but it gets harder and harder to find donors every year," Stracuzzi said.
But, he said, there are other aspects of the city Christmas tree and lighting ceremony that remain the same, and have even gotten better.
"There's always been Santa," he said, speaking of the appearance of the jolly red Christmas ambassador, and Mrs. Claus usually joins too. Over the past several years, Patrick's Pub donated free hot chocolate to help warm the revelers gathering for the event. And the atmosphere is made festive with the sound of holiday tunes, as sung live by the Taconic High School choral groups.
Mayor Daniel L. Bianchi has also upheld the modern tradition of asking ceremony-goers to bring a nonperishable food donation to help out local food pantries.
"The holiday season is an important time for us all to give to those in need," he said.
Though only a fraction of the job his department does year-round, Stracuzzi said the tree lighting is one of the most important gigs they do all year.
"It's the start of the holiday spirit," he said. "So many of us are under so much stress this time of year, but then you go with your family, and the little kids enjoy it, and their parents begin to relax and enjoy it too."
Becky Manship, recreation activities coordinator for the city's Department of Community Development agreed, saying, "It's always one of my favorite events out of the year seeing all of the families come out and how Pittsfield comes together."
Stracuzzi, who turns 65 next year and hopes to retire, says this year may be his last in an official capacity, but he hopes he and future generations will be part of this event for years to come.
He said, "My grandson's 3 years old, and he and my wife were down the other day. He picked up a light and put it on a branch and said, 'Look Papa, I helped light the tree!' I told him, 'Yes, you did.' "