Deck The Trees: Black Mountain celebrates Christmas tree tradition

Ty Roush
Black Mountain News
A wooden Christmas tree design in the lobby of the Monte Vista Hotel on Dec. 11, 2020.

BLACK MOUNTAIN - Beth Ballhaussen didn't want to decorate a Christmas tree for her store. 

A co-owner of Town Hardware & General Store with her husband, Peter, Ballhaussen is "no art, no creativity," but "I can stand there and sing all day," she says. After decorating a tree for the store with employee Eleanor James, Ballhaussen says she's considering decorating another tree for next year's Deck The Trees.

When James said she was willing to decorate the tree, Ballhaussen was "all in."

"I just refused to do it because I'm not the creative one," Ballhaussen said. "But when Eleanor found out about it, she said, 'Oh, I'm all about it.'"

For Deck The Trees, an annual Black Mountain-based fundraiser for the Swannanoa Christian Ministry's Fuel Fund, residents decorate Christmas trees to be held in the lobby of the Monte Vista Hotel (and elsewhere this year). Trees are voted on by placing a dollar in donation boxes in front of the tree.

Trees are selected for awards based on the amount of money raised and which tree best represents that year's theme. Though trees are normally placed only in the hotel lobby, trees are scattered throughout downtown businesses this year in addition to trees at the hotel.

This year's theme is "And A Star Appeared," with 15 trees at the Monte Vista and 20 trees spread through the community. All trees can be viewed online at the SVCM website.

To incorporate this year's theme into Town Hardware's first tree, James wanted to include items from the store. The store's tree includes constellations of a compass, belts and a scorpion among other items.

By the tree is a list of the constellations, what they represent and the Latin names for each product.

Libba Fairleigh, who has organized the event since its second year, applauded both Ballhaussen and James' efforts. She says she has been rejected by Ballhaussen each year when proposing a tree for the store.

"It's fun to stand outside the window (by the store)," Fairleigh said. "I think, as a parent, if I was wanting to teach my kids about stars and constellations, I would take them to the tree and say, 'OK, you know, find this and what is that?'"

Ballhaussen said she'd be willing to do another tree next year, though she says it will depend on what the theme is and whether James will still be around.

Troop 2498

Girl Scout Troop 2498 has been holding its meetings online this year. "In a normal year," leader Kiersten Hall says, the troop would get together to talk about decorating the tree months in advance. 

More in-person meetings would be held to decorate the tree, but this year's preparation had to be different.

"We just had to think of an easy way to actually make the ornaments and everything," Hall said. "So, we couldn't get too complicated."

Through four years of decorating trees for Deck The Trees, the troop holds onto some decorating traditions. Ornaments are personalized and made with whatever materials troop members can find, while Girl Scout dolls are placed somewhere under the tree to work with the theme.

Because the troop was unable to meet, Hall asked each troop member to make 20 stars.

"They don't have to all be alike," Hall told her troop. "Any size, any idea that you want. I want 20."

Girl Scout Troop 2498's Christmas tree in the lobby of the Monte Vista Hotel on Dec. 11, 2020.

For trees held in the Monte Vista Hotel lobby, organizers had to space out time slots for decorators to complete their trees. Spaced throughout three sections of the hotel's bottom floor, decorators had to work with a three-hour slot before the next scheduled decorators arrived.

In other years, decorators would all come at once the morning that each tree would be unveiled. When Hall would come to the hotel with her troop, "we get the hot chocolate from the hotel and there's music playing."

Because of the troop's size, and organizers limiting the number of decorators for each participating group to three, Hall says she worked to maintain traditions.

All stars were passed on to troop leaders who would deliver the stars to Hall and some troop members at the hotel. Troop members would rotate in and out throughout the three-hour slot, placing stars on the tree while sipping hot chocolate.

Deck The Trees has become a Black Mountain tradition, Hall said.

"Usually, in a normal year after Holly Jolly, the parade, the crowds of people that you just see walk around, they always stop here," Hall said. "It's just a tradition for so many people. Once they do it once, I think it becomes tradition."

Different materials

No star on Girl Scout Troop 2498's tree is the same. Some are folded egg cartons, while others are made from Q-tips, toilet paper rolls, recycled paper and aluminum foil.

Kate Ramsey, a former chairperson of the town's Beautification Committee, says the committee's tree has its stars formed by several rolls of toilet paper.

"It was a fun process," Ramsey said. "It's not something that I thought we would be able to work with, but we got it done."

Other trees spread throughout the Monte Vista include papier-mache dog heads, engraved and carved wooden stars, a tree made entirely of handmade stars and miniature lawnmowers.

Fairleigh said watching the decorators get to work was "often inspiring."

"It's such a strange year," Fairleigh said. "Watching them all get their trees together, you wouldn't know what we've been through. It was incredible."