The distant sound of a brass band made Northampton Street come alive in a moment early Saturday afternoon.
The Big Easy Easton Band descended the long hill leading to Centre Square in a blaze of sound, color and twinkling lights. It paused at Fourth Street, where a jolly man in a bright red suit climbed out of a car to lead the parade on a brisk final march.
With Santa Claus waving a path through the crowd, the players mounted a bandstand hooting and singing a jazz rendition of “Jingle Bells,” and the spirit of the holidays filled Downtown Easton.
Towering over the bandstand and onlookers, however, was the real attraction. For seven decades the Peace Candle has been a symbol of the holidays in Easton — first the approach of Thanksgiving as city workers hoist its sections into place over the Soldiers and Sailors Memorial, and then Christmas, Hanukkah and the New Year as hundreds gather in Center Square for the candle’s illumination.
Until 2016, the ceremony happened on the evening of Black Friday. For the last three years, the ceremony has morphed into a day of festivities. In addition to the bands playing in Centre Square, the Easton Main Street Initiative promoted a full program of events and attractions including ice-carvers, carriage rides and wandering carolers.
Some of those who came out for the music and fun Saturday said the big lead up to the Peace Candle lighting builds on Easton’s special feeling of community.
“If you’re here when it gets dark, it’s pretty special with the lights and people speaking. There’s a real sense of solidarity,” said Marilyn Barrell, who came Saturday afternoon with her daughter Eliza Feltimo to see her granddaughter Ruby play French horn with the Easton Middle School 8th grade band.
Christopher Black, a member of the Bachman Players, said he’s a fan of the bigger celebration. The group dresses in Colonial-era garb and carols by lamplight.
“For myself, I find it a little more enjoyable,” said Black, who also portrays Robert Levers, the reader of the Declaration of Independence each year at Easton’s Heritage Day celebration. “We get to walk around and sing all day long.”
Other events Saturday included a gingerbread house display and silent auction at the Third Street Alliance for Women and Children, where families could also pose for pictures with Santa. The gingerbread mansions, castles and huts were donated by local groups including students at Bethlehem Area Vocational-Technical School, whose creation featured working electric lights, and a Girl Scout troop that made twin houses with a message about keeping plastic trash out of the oceans.
“The houses we have this year are really special,” said Lynn Ondrusek Schoof, community outreach and communications manager for Third Street Alliance. “Each one seems to have a story.”
The story of the Peace Candle itself can be found at the Sigal Museum. First erected in 1951 by civic leaders who had returned from the Korean War, the Peace Candle sparked controversy among those who objected to the war memorial being covered. It kindled real flames when a short circuit ignited it shortly after it was first illuminated. And in 1991, when the United States again went to war in the Persian Gulf, city residents voted to keep the candle in place until Memorial Day in support of American troops, according to the film “Easton’s Peace Candle: The History of a City Tradition.”
While Guinness World Records refused to consider officially naming the Peace Candle the world’s largest because it’s not wax, Eastonians remain proud of the centerpiece of their holiday tradition.
“Some cities have a big tree lighting,” said David Rose, a member of the Bachmann Players. “This is a little different.”+