Home for the Holidays celebration will go onIt took only a matter of days to “save” Christmas in Cloquet. After an article appeared in the Pine Journal a couple of weeks ago reporting Cloquet’s traditional “Home for the Holidays” celebration was in jeopardy of being discontinued for lack of an organizer, Robbie Thompson sat up and took notice.
By: Wendy Johnson, Pine Journal
It took only a matter of days to “save” Christmas in Cloquet.
After an article appeared in the Pine Journal a couple of weeks ago reporting Cloquet’s traditional “Home for the Holidays” celebration was in jeopardy of being discontinued for lack of an organizer, Robbie Thompson sat up and took notice.
“I thought it was terrible that this type of celebration might go away,” said Thompson, vice president and general counsel at Members Cooperative Credit Union. “I wanted my kids to have something like this. I also thought it would be a great opportunity for me to get more involved in the community, since I’m fairly new here.”
Thompson called up longtime “Home for the Holidays” organizer Harvey Benko and suggested the two talk more about it. Then he went to his employer, MCCU, and asked if he could use his company volunteer time to help organize the event. Taking it a step further, he asked MCCU President Tammy Heikkanen if the credit union would consider sponsoring the event, and she agreed to both.
A couple of days later, Thompson was at the Cloquet Area Chamber Business After Hours event and decided to ask Al and Renee Birman, owners of Cloquet Ford-Chrysler Center, if they would be interested in co-sponsoring the event and serving as co-chairs as well.
“Instantly, our answer was a ‘yes!’” said Renee. “In fact, we’d already been talking about it.”
Both sponsors pledged a $1,000 contribution as seed money for this year’s event, and then they went out to recruit volunteers to help with it. Over the course of the next couple of days, they already had commitments from some 20 people, with more stepping forward every day since then.
Last Sunday, the entire group had their first meeting, and Thompson said each volunteer seemed to have their own, personal reason for becoming involved.
“Small towns like ours seem to be losing more than they gain these days,” he stated. “First Cloquet lost Bentleyville, the fireworks almost didn’t happen this year, and there were cutbacks at the Labor Day celebration. Towns like this need to have those sorts of things to attract and keep people – and it’s good for business, too. In the last three days, I’ve heard so many stories from people about what it was like in Cloquet when they were younger, the things they did and how much fun it was, but they don’t seem to exist any more. That’s what we want to do with this – get back to a family celebration that’s close to home, traditional events, activities concentrating on the kids. Let’s bring that all back and give it some of that traditional feel that’s been missing for years, and then try to build it up from here.”
The Birmans had their own personal reasons for stepping up to the plate, reflecting on how commercialism and big box retailing have “desensitized” Christmas so the personal side of it has gone by the wayside.
“I think a lot of people are sick and tired of being ‘politically corrected,’” said Renee. “They just want to get back to the basics of small town community, Christmas, Santa and presents.”
With only five weeks to go until the Nov. 28 event, the newly formed Santa’s Home for the Holidays Celebration committee has already covered a lot of ground thanks to the help and experience of Benko and his wife, Mikey, who remain on the committee.
Popular activities from past celebrations are being restaged this year, including the horse-drawn trolley rides, the community bonfire (this year featuring holiday music by area choirs), and the popular illuminated nighttime parade along the downtown stretch of Cloquet Avenue.
New activities in the planning stages include a gingerbread house display by area elementary students in the lobby of MCCU, store front and light pole decorating contests at area businesses, and afternoon-long family fun activities at both MCCU, 101 14th St., and Cloquet Ford, 701 Washington Ave. The open houses will feature such kid-friendly activities as ornament making, cookie decorating, Christmas coloring pages and photos with Santa. Both businesses will also serve refreshments such as hot chocolate, coffee, hot cider and holiday treats.
Afternoon activities will run from 2-4:30 p.m.
Preliminary plans are to have two antique tractors pulling hay wagons to transport people between MCCU and Cloquet Ford as an added family fun experience.
Parade lineup will get under way at 5 p.m. in downtown Cloquet, with the start of the parade set for 5:30 p.m.
An added element of this year’s celebration will be a food collection for the local food shelf, with collection to take place at both sponsor locations as well as during the parade and at all of the day’s events.
“Bentleyville used to hold a food drive and contributed something like 20,000 pounds of food,” said Renee. “Now that it’s moved to Duluth, what’s going to happen to the local food shelf? We’d like to pick up where they left off.”
In addition, a hat, mittens and jacket drive is also planned, coordinated by Rick Colsen and Tony Savage.
“We figured that at this time of year one of the best things we could do was to collect warm clothing so all children can get outside and enjoy the winter,” said Colsen.
The food and jacket drive will run from Nov. 14-28, and items can be dropped off at MCCU or Cloquet Ford or along the parade route the night of the event.
As this year’s Santa’s Home for the Holidays Celebration unfolds, sponsors and volunteers are already looking ahead to the future.
“We want to make it an event that will hopefully grow over the years,” said Al. “For next year, we hope to have a core group of 12-15 organizers to work on it all year and a list of 30 or 40 people we can call on to help out as well.”
Anyone wishing to take part in this year’s event as a volunteer, sponsor, parade entry, or participant in either the store front or light pole competitions, is encouraged to contact the Birmans at Cloquet Ford, 218-879-4668.
“I think there’s going to be more and more of this sort of thing nationwide,” summed up Al, “– where small towns start getting involved once again. It seems that memory lane strikes every time we start talking about Christmas. In fact, it’s happened at every one of our meetings so far. That means what we’re doing is a good thing.”
For ongoing updates on the Santa’s Home for the Holidays Celebration, visit the Web site at santashomefortheholidays.com.