MARS HILL – It’s beginning to look a lot like Christmas everywhere you go.
Except for in Mars Hill.
After a run-in with the telephone company, Verizon, and a change of heart by a few local residents, the town has lost all of its traditional Christmas decorations.
Gone are the colored lights that have stretched across Main Street, from telephone pole to telephone pole, for the past 50 years. Vanished is the potato barrel Christmas tree, which has stood in the downtown area for the last decade.
It’s a big loss for the town, according to Mars Hill Town Manager Ray Mersereau, and many residents have voiced their sadness and dissatisfaction.
“You’d be surprised at how many people have come in to ask why the lights aren’t up or just to say how sad they are that they’re gone,” Mersereau said Monday.
Verizon had the strings of lights taken down recently after learning last year that the live wires – activated eight hours a day during the month of December – were hanging too close to other lines on the telephone poles. Officials on both sides of the issue worked to find a solution that met everyone’s needs, but were unable to find an option that complied with National Electric Safety Code. The code requires 40 inches of clearance between live electric wires and their phone lines.
The removal has been an unexpected farewell to tradition, according to resident Jackie Lundeen.
“There’s a really big sense of loss for the lights,” Lundeen said Monday. “A lot of people are dissatisfied because the lights were taken down, especially seniors and people who have lived here all their life.”
Others who don’t even live in town have voiced their anger and dismay at Mars Hill’s loss.
Betty Kennedy of Quakertown, Pa., read about the town’s plight in Down East magazine and wrote a scathing letter to Verizon in response.
“Scrooge is too nice a name for your company,” Kennedy wrote.
She ended her letter by suggesting that someone should look into putting coal in their stocking, too.
While losing the lights might be the equivalent of getting a lump of coal for Christmas, losing the traditional Christmas tree is a double blow for residents.
For about 10 years, Lundeen has helped residents Terry Hamm-Morris and Sue McCrum set up the potato barrel Christmas tree. The tree, made of stacked potato barrels and strewn with red ribbons and pine boughs, always appeared at the intersection of U.S. Route 1 and the town’s Main Street.
The decoration, however, was always a lot of work to set up, Lundeen explained, so the women decided this year not to do it.
In place of the constructed tree, town officials decided to plant a live 25-foot fir tree, which now is festooned with lights. It’s the only decoration up in town.
And for now, Mars Hill is going to celebrate the season with its one decoration.
“Right now, the little Christmas tree is all the Christmas spirit we have in Mars Hill,” Mersereau said.