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Memory Tree event remains on-course


November 19, 2020
BETHLEHEM — Despite the cancellation of nearly all regional holiday events, Bethlehem's Memory Tree ceremony remains scheduled for Dec. 5. The annual event honors veterans and deceased loved ones with a reading of names.

The memory tree tradition dates back to 1989, when a local committee called "Open for the Season" wanted to raise funds for their yearly summer event. The organization placed collection buckets at local businesses so that people could submit names for the reading.

Ten years ago, a new tree was planted for veterans at Bethlehem's Heritage Center. For more than thirty years, residents have gathered across the street from the Bethlehem Town Hall in early Dec to honor the deceased and light the two trees.

According to Bethlehem Heritage Society President Clare Brown, the ceremony was well-attended during the early years, but participation has dwindled over time. Despite lower attendance rates, the list continues to grow each year and it now surpasses 200 names.

In 1997, the Heritage Society assumed responsibility for the ceremony, as it faced discontinued due to lack of interest. For the last ten years, the Memory Tree Ceremony has coincided with the annual Christmas in Bethlehem festival, founded by Bethlehem Fire Chief Jack Anderson.

Safety concerns and the rising number of positive COVID cases led the Christmas in Bethlehem organizers to cancel the festival this year. But unlike other festival-related activities, the Memory Tree Ceremony could be held outside with no direct physical contact.

Brown encouraged residents to place names on the trees and attend the event, scheduled for 4 pm on Sat, Dec 5.

She said, "It is one of the most meaningful ceremonies that we have in Bethlehem, as people take the time to think about their loved ones and friends that have passed away. These friends and loved ones are honored for what they do for their families or the community. Our veterans were the men and women who gave 'the ultimate sacrifice' to serve their country and their communities. It is the thoughts behind the reading of the names that makes this event one of the longest-standing traditions in Bethlehem."

Anyone who wishes to add a loved one's name to the Memory Tree is encouraged to reach out directly to the Bethlehem Heritage Society by calling 869-3300 or sending an email to history@bethlehemheritagenh.org. The deadline for name submissions is Monday, Nov. 30.

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