By Rick Hiduk Winter 2020
The Tunkhannock Business & Professional Association (TBPA) has been coordinating Christmas in Our Hometown for nearly two decades. The event draws thousands of people from miles around to the quaint downtown streets of one of the best-preserved business districts in Pennsylvania. More than 85% of the downtown area is comprised of century-old structures, giving the Wyoming County seat a Dickensesque appeal that seems custom-made for a holiday celebration.
On Friday and Saturday evening, Dec. 6 and 7, several blocks of Tioga Street, Tunkhannock‘s primary thoroughfare, will be closed to all but pedestrian traffic. A horse-drawn wagon serves as both a shuttle and a unique ride around town. Vendors of all sorts line both sides of the street, and the borough’s antiques shops and eateries stay open late with exhibits and special holiday treats for patrons. What happens downtown is nothing short of magical for those who have made the event a tradition.
“Tunkhannock is a unique town of mom and pop shops, and Christmas in Our Hometown is indicative of the holiday spirit that so many people strive to keep alive each year,” said TBPA president Nancy Parlo. Music fills the street, while the town is polished and decorated to the hilt. Shops compete with window displays that captivate guests. The large windows of one furniture store come alive with performances by dancers from a premiere area studio.
Tunkhannock is a hot spot for area artisans, and their talents are on display from one end of the event staging area to the other. Live musicians, a chainsaw ice carver, and strolling carolers have been part of the enchanting mix in years past. The TBPA Hometown committee incorporates the best of the old with new ideas every year. There are certain staples, however, with which returning “homeowners” cannot part.
A grand ceremonial tree lighting takes place both evenings at 5 p.m. in the area of 83 E. Tioga St. Santa and Mrs. Claus arrive in the horse-drawn wagon, led by the Tunkhannock High School Marching Band. “This is one of the most exciting moments of the weekend for children of all ages,” Parlo related. “It still gives me goosebumps.”
After speaking with television reporters, the North Pole’s most famous resident and his wife stroll over to the town tree. With the help of a large crowd, they count down, then throw the switch to start the Christmas season in Tunkhannock officially. From there, residents and visitors fan out through the town to enjoy free cookies, cider, hot chocolate, and other goodies.
The Dietrich Theater in the Wyoming County Cultural Center is both literally and figuratively a hub for the celebration, hosting a slate of activities through the weekend in conjunction with the TBPA. The Dietrich’s famed Cookie Walk begins on Friday night and continues at 11 a.m. on Saturday until all of the cookies are gone.
“We have some great ‘cookie elves’ who bake hundreds of cookies each in support of our children’s programming,” Cultural Center executive director Erica Rogler remarked. Patrons pay $6 apiece to fill a container with whatever cookies catch their eyes. “It’s great for those of us who prefer eating cookies over baking them.”
Also on Saturday, the Dietrich hosts a family-friendly Holiday Workshop open house featuring a cookie decorating class, singing, and balloon art. Visitors will be enamored by the entryway and theater lobby, oozing with Christmas charm. “The galleries are a winter wonderland put together by Dietrich volunteers,” said Rogler. “It is a sight to behold. They wow us every year.”
There are additional activities scattered throughout Tunkhannock on Saturday before a repeat performance by the Clauses and another fascinating holiday evening featuring the same elements as the previous night. A candy shop on Bridge Street broadens its holiday repertoire every year with a display of life-size characters from iconic Christmas movies and TV shows.
Christmas in Our Hometown has made Tunkhannock a holiday destination. More people every year are staying in local hotels and bed-and-breakfasts to take in as much of it as they can. Other local landmarks, such as the Tunkhannock Viaduct at Nicholson, a railroad bridge that was once the largest concrete structure in America, are on the agenda of many overnight guests.
“Christmas in Our Hometown is a wonderful opportunity for the entire Tunkhannock Community. Many residents who have moved away make a point of returning for the festivities,” Parlo remarked. “Visitors get caught up in the celebration as well. They enjoy the opportunity to shop at unique specialty stores and eat in our restaurants.”
Photos by Rick Hiduk