Christmas tree lighting attracts hundreds at Fort Meade
By Jack Chavez
Dec 19, 2018 at 3:00 PM
As partly cloudy skies gave way to dusk Dec. 6, an estimated 200 people descended upon the grounds of the Main Post Chapel to watch the annual Christmas tree lighting.
The hour-long event featured Christmas caroling by Fort Meade’s Cub Scouts, Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts, and music by the U.S. Army Field Band’s Brass Quintet. Hot chocolate was provided by the Fort Meade USO Center.
After greetings from Chaplain (Lt. Col.) Stephen Pratel Sr., Garrison Commander Col. Erich C. Spragg and two young sisters, Bella and Iris, whose father is deployed overseas, flipped on the lights.
“It’s nice to get the community of Fort Meade together this time of year,” Spragg said afterward. “It’s nice that kids can see Santa here instead of going [elsewhere]. … This is a great event — lots of light, hot chocolate and everything else.”
For the past few years, the towering conifer that stands between the chapel and Roberts Avenue has been tapped as the official Christmas tree of Fort Meade. Before then, the tree lighting was held at McGlachlin Parade Field.
Community service providers Melwood decked the tree’s long, curved boughs with 3,500 LED Christmas lights — roughly one-third of a mile — and topped it with a 4-foot star. The star atop the evergreen stands almost perfectly parallel to the top of the chapel’s spire.
“Here at Main Post Chapel, we have a beautiful Christmas tree,” said Garrison Family Life Chaplain (Maj.) Dwayne Hughes.
The turnout, he said, roughly doubled from last year.
“A lot of the families walked and drove in, and we just had a great time,” Hughes said. “That’s what I loved about it — all the families, all the kids playing.”
Among new attendees were Amelia Dahl and her husband, Capt. Jared Dahl, and their 3-year-old son Jonah.
“It’s technically our third [Christmas] at Fort Meade, but it’s the first time we came to the tree lighting,” said Amelia Dahl, who is due to give birth to the Hanover family’s second child, Caleb, on Dec. 23.
“We just wanted to support the community. My husband has a new job [nearby], so we just wanted to come and support more of the Fort Meade community.”
An overall sense of togetherness permeated throughout the crowd on the chilly night, as many attendees and volunteers chatted with each other while drinking hot chocolate.
“I just love the holiday spirit this time of year,” said Fort Meade USO Program Coordinator Brittany Freshwater.
“I know it’s cold, but you’re all bundled up and everybody gathers together and it’s just fun to have the tree lighting. … When everybody on post gets to come together for an event, it’s especially memorable.”
Master Sgt. Wes Ballenger, who plays bass trombone in the Brass Quintet, said he’s enjoyed playing alongside the Cub Scouts and seeing the event grow over the four years he’s participated.
“We used to do it over at the gazebo on the parade field, but it’s really nice to be able to support this [with the Field Band] every year,” Ballenger said. “Look at all the people out here. It’s just a great event to get everybody out in the community and celebrate the season.”
Guest Of the night
As the crowd took in the tunes and admired the radiant tree, the flash of red-and-white fire truck lights down Roberts Avenue signaled the arrival of a special guest.
The crowd gathered in front of the arriving truck and as the side doors opened, the sound of the children’s exclamations and excitement confirmed that Kris Kringle — Santa Claus himself — had joined the party.
“Ho, ho ho! Merry Christmas!” Santa greeted the crowd as he made his way to a chair in front of the tree, where eager children lined up to tell him what they wanted this year.
The event also attracted the recently crowned Miss Maryland 2019, Mariela Pepin, and Miss Maryland Preteen 2018 Emily Bourden.
The Fort Meade tree lighting is more than just making the rounds in her capacity as Miss Maryland, said Pepin. The 22-year-old Towson University student grew up on the installation and attended MacArthur Middle School and Meade High.
“This community itself is really important to me, really special to me,” Pepin said. “My dad served in the Army almost 25 years. So any way that I can give back to military personnel is always going to be a special moment for me and I try to make that happen.”
Bourden said she loves being a role model for the kids, and holiday events like this are helpful for her to relate her message to children: have big dreams and big goals.
Santa doubled down on that message when asked to name his favorite part of the holiday season.