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Frenchtown ‘Festival of Lights’ Honors Village Evolution

Longtime resident Molly Morris speaks Sunday about how Frenchtown has changed – and how it has remained the same.The addition of a Festival of Lights Tree Competition to Frenchtown’s annual Christmas program was initially meant to recognize the village’s growing business community, but residents said Sunday night that even though it is evolving, Frenchtown has still retained its spirit and sense of cultural pride.

Now in its third year, the competition gives businesses in the area the chance to sponsor and decorate a themed Christmas tree, which is unveiled during the program and evaluated by a panel of judges. A total of 10 trees were entered this year from businesses on all sides of Frenchtown, and organizers said Sunday that having them participate was an active effort to incorporate them into the longstanding community event and show that Frenchtown is able to “keep up with the changing times.”

“The landscape of the village is definitely different now,” French Heritage Museum curator Roy Magras said. “But we still wanted to get the businesses involved because they are now a part of who we are as a community. And with them involved, we are able to engage more of the young people in the village, who we want each year to come out and be a bigger part of the event.”

This year’s competition theme was “My Favorite ‘Tings,” which gave the participants a chance to look at what they love most about the island during the holiday season. Interestingly, many of the newer businesses in the area, such as Frenchtown Brewery and MLB Creative, took a more modern approach to the theme, while some of the older businesses, such as Julianna’s Bake Shop, Forever Flowers and La Petit Fenetre, put in more classic creations.

MLB’s “How the Grinch Stole Christmas”tree was completely wrapped in green cloth, with the Grinch’s face on the outside, while the Brewery’s ‘86 Degrees and Sunny’ tree incorporated inflatable sun ornaments, sunglasses and thermometers. The Bake Shop’s tree, meanwhile, included a miniature model of its building, along with photo ornaments of family members, customers and other memories.

Julianna’s Bake Shop decorated the winning tree this year.The Bake Shop took first place in the competition this year, followed by La Petite Fenetre and Forever Flowers, whose tree was a local take on the classic song “My Favorite Things.”

Against the backdrop of the competition, organizers also spoke the evolution of the village in terms of loss, particularly of those in the community who have died over the past year. The Christmas program was a favorite for many of them, and while residents say the village is evolving, the memories of those that helped to make it were still strong.

“If there is one thing that we can learn from these losses, it’s that we need to bring in everyone one, our businesses, our youth and youngsters in the community, to keep the spirit of our heritage and culture alive,” Magras said. “Every tree on stage tonight represents a commitment to our community and more importantly to the intrinsic value that these business relationships play in promoting that very culture.”

While Magras spoke about the memories of Christmas tree lighting in the village – which has now taken a different turn with the Festival of Lights competition – longtime Frenchtown resident and V.I. Source reporter Molly Morris also shared some of what she has seen and written about “as a fly on the wall of history” over the years.

Morris said despite the changes, there are some sights, smells and sounds that have remained a part of the community’s fabric. She spoke about memories of the holidays, and the launch of the French Heritage Museum. In times of loss, she said, there is an unspoken bond between residents that helps keep life going in the village, and brings the community together. Morris spoke specifically about the loss of St. Thomas fisherman David Turbe almost a year ago and how, without even speaking about what happened, members of the community began to set up little shrines, or collections of items, around the community in his honor after the news broke about his death.

“No one said anything to anyone, but people just began accumulating stuff,” she said. “It was just such a wonderful tribute and it’s indicative of the community. That’s who we are.”

Morris, who said she is “blessed” to live in the community, said her late husband, Dan Stecher, “thanked God every day for finding him a home in Frenchtown.”

“I could probably not have survived the death of my husband this year without the love and support of everyone,” she said. “Everyone that came by, or brought food, or offered kind words; I am so blessed to be a part of this community.”

Sunday’s ceremony also paid tribute to honoree Anthony “Chester” Serge, who spoke during the event. Santa also paid a visit during the evening and distributed gifts to children six years old and younger.

The event is sponsored by the Frenchtown Civic Organization and the French Heritage Museum. 

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