Needham High School
Class Of 1967 & 1968
The Blue Tree,a holiday tradition on the Needham Common since 1954, has to come down, officials say, with rot leaving the sugar maple a risk to public safety.
Sixty years ago, on a cold December night, a switch was flipped and the very first Blue Tree on Needham Common was illuminated with sparkling lights.
This year, Needham residents and local officials — as well as Governor-elect Charlie Baker, a town native — will be present to see the beloved town icon illuminated for one final holiday season before it is chopped down, and a newer, healthier tree takes its place.
Now 70 feet tall, it was planted in the town square in 1954, after the president of a local business group proposed the idea. On Dec. 3 of that year, the first tree lighting took place, with visitors coming to see the spectacle.
And a spectacle it was and remains: not the traditional evergreen with colored lights, but a giant sugar maple, decked out with 4,000 blue bulbs. There now is a Blue Tree lighting up the town in two locations, with the original joined by one in Avery Square.
After six decades at the center of the town’s holiday tradition, the old sugar maple has to come down, according to town officials.
“It’s got cavities and rot, and it could fall down,” said Kate Fitzpatrick, the town manager. “There are so many people out on the common every day, so we just couldn’t risk it.”
The town appropriated $35,000 for the replacement process and installation of a 30-foot-tall maple.
‘ We’ll still have a blue tree. It’s just not going to be the same experience that has been for the last few decades.’
“It’s going to take a while, but we’ll still have a blue tree,” Fitzpatrick said. “It’s just not going to be the same experience that has been for the last few decades.”
Fitzpatrick says the new tree is slated for planting by Arbor Day in April, after a possible redesign of the historic common in the early spring.
As for the tree that has stood on the common for 60 years, selectmen are trying to decide what to do with the wood. Local merchants have suggested making furniture or turning the old tree into something that could benefit the community, but the decision is still up in the air, said Fitzpatrick.
Some Needham residents are singing the blues about the old tree coming down.
“It is so sad to think that it’s going,” said Louise Condon, director of the Needham Business Association and its Blue Tree chairwoman, “but it’s better to remove it than to have it fall during a storm.”
Condon has been decorating the tree and raising funds for the celebration for more than 25 years. She said the event usually costs about $5,000 to $10,000, which covers the police detail, decorations, and thousands of bulbs. (That last item varies, depending on how many old bulbs can be reused.)
For this year’s lighting ceremony, at 5 p.m. Dec. 6, businesses will extend shopping hours, restaurants will offer specials, and the Luminary Lighting Stroll Committee will provide activities. Beginning at 5:15 p.m., Selectman John Bulian, the Rev. Gary Shaw of Carter Memorial United Methodist Church, and the future governor will all say a few words before Fire Chief Paul Buckley lights the Blue Tree for one final time. The Plugged In Singers will provide live music, and Santa will arrive at 5:45 p.m. on a firetruck.
The traditional festivities mark the beginning of the holidays for Needham, and a spectacular send-off for one of the most beloved pillars of the community.
“It’s amazingly beautiful,” Fitzpatrick said. “Next year,’’ she added after a moment or two, “it’s going to be just as magnificent.”
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