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O' Christmas Tree, O' Christmas Tree

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From left, Eli Hood, Ezra Hood and Andy Hood stand next to a pile of donated Christmas trees, which were burned Sunday at First Christian Church. The annualEpiphany bonfirewas lit by George Caldwell, who used to attend similarcelebrations more than 50 years ago at the Hawthorne Drive home of John Miller.
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Todd Eversole crouches down as he adds another Christmas tree to the burning pile at the First Christian Church Epiphany bonfire Sunday night.
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This photo, first published in The Courier-Times on Jan. 10, 1955, shows New Castleyoungsters gathered behind the home of Mr. and Mrs. J. Byron Miller, 710 Hawthorn Road, to participate in a tradition – the burning of Christmas trees in a celebration called “Twelfth Night.” The event was started a few years earlier by Mr. and Mrs. Donald Graham tocelebrate Epiphany or Twelfth Night, which, according to the Bible, is the night the three wise men arrived at the manger to see the Christ child. In the 1950s, most everyone had a live Christmas tree, which needed to disposed of after the holidays. Those picturedstanding among the trees and Christmas greens are Patrick Ryan, Melinda andGeorge Caldwell, Buffy Lee and Freddie Mann, Melinda Brenneke, Lawrence and Eliza Clift, Johnny Miller, Elsa Jane Millikan, Julia Miller, Jimmy Millikan, Barbara Miller and Billy Brenneke.
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Claire Davis, left, and William Allen enjoy refreshmants after a Christmas tree bonfire marking the end of the holiday season.

By KATIE CLONTZ - For The Courier-Times

Melinda (Caldwell) Wahl has fond childhood memories of Christmas tree bonfires.

Growing up near John Miller on Hawthorne Drive, she and her brother, George Caldwell, used to canvas the neighborhood after the holidays collecting trees to burn.

The bonfires took place in Miller’s backyard more than 50 years ago.

“We used to sing ‘We Three Kings’ while this was going on,” Wahl recalled.

Sunday, the heat from more than 100 burning Christmas trees kept community members warm as they celebrated Three Kings Day at First Christian Church on Bundy Avenue.

The church began hosting the event several years ago after being asked to do so by Miller and Caldwell.

Also called Epiphany, the event symbolizes the three kings arriving at the manger after the birth of Jesus, explained First Christian Church Rev. Alecia Gross.

“I think it’s a wonderful way for people to come together,” Gross said. “I think the number of trees is great. Picking them up is a nice service we can offer.”

According to Caldwell, most of the trees burned Sunday were picked up by church volunteers from the homes of donors, though some families did drop their trees off at the church.

With ideal temperatures in the mid-40s, dozens of church and community members turned out for the festivities, including hot chocolate and cookies, which were reminiscent of the refreshments Miller’s mom served at their backyard bonfires years ago.

First Christian Church Administrative Coordinator Sherry Denney said Sunday’s weather was the best they’ve ever had.

“I’m not even wearing a coat,” Denney said as she stood among the donated trees.

Before the bonfire began, Gross addressed the crowd present.

“May the fire within each one of us glow to our full potential,” she said.

Carlyle Barnard came from Dayton, Ohio to attend the bonfire with her mother, New Castle resident Pam Kinkade.

“We’ve been the last several years,” Barnard said. “You should see the sparks!”

And see sparks they did. The trees donated for the event were arranged in a circle, with one main pile in the center. After the center pile was lit, the outer trees were tossed into the growing blaze. Heat from the gigantic fire could be felt yards away as sparks shot into the dark night.

“Who doesn’t like a big fire?” asked church member Marty Weaver, who attended with his wife, Debby.

“It kind of makes me feel like a new beginning,” Debby said. “Shedding the old and looking toward a new year.”