Sprucing up St Mary’s in pine style

How do you get nearly 100 Christmas trees complete with lights into a 900 year-old church?

With great difficulty is probably the shortest answer.

St Mary's Christmas Tree feature''w135102f

St Mary's Christmas Tree feature''w135102f

However, what started as a small project to get more people involved at St Mary’s Church has now turned into one of the town’s favourite traditions.

The annual Christmas tree exhibition has been going for 10 years and is embraced by locals, church-goers, businesses, schools and visitors alike.

This year there are 96 trees in total, of all different shapes, colours and sizes which have been painstakingly put up and decorated over a period of three days.

They will be on show in the church until Thursday January 2.

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St Mary's Christmas Tree feature''w135102e

Meandering through the straight-lined pews in the church, it wouldn’t be a sin to think it was a fairly straight-forward set up but for organiser and church maid Diane Davies, that is not the case.

She said: “You think they are just trees but you have to look at the position of them and hope we have got it right with sizes because some people have brought seven foot ones and others have brought three foot ones and because of the boxed pews it is difficult.”

And then there is the small problem of lighting the trees, as when St Mary’s was being built, as far back as 1110, a Christmas tree exhibition with fibre optics didn’t feature in the design brief.

Diane said: “Because of the issues with electrics everything has to be tested by our electrician. We have to work out the wiring, circuit breakers and the amount of lights.

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St Mary's Christmas Tree feature''w135102d

“It wasn’t an issue in the early days but as the number of trees have increased we are having to say to people you can only have one set of lights.

“Our problem is we have electrics at either end or have long wires and if anything blows it is hard to replace because of the type of wires that we have got. There is such a range of trees with the fibre optic ones but thankfully some people are going back to traditional ones.”

Each tree in the exhibition is very individual and personal to the person that put it up.

For example, the one from Whitby Yacht club has sailing decorations, the tree by Shearings, the company which owns the Royal Hotel, has got coaches on it and there are farmyard animal baubles on the one from Ruswarp Farmer’s Market.

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St Mary's Christmas Tree feature''w135102c

There are personal ones too put there in memory of family members and loved ones and even one in memory of Floss - a sheepdog which was a member of the conregation.

When the exhibition was started by the then church warden’s wife, Sheila Hemson, it was actually a struggle to get people to put the trees.

Diane recalls: “The congregation decided to do something different but they struggled. They only got about 20 trees in the first year. It gradually grew but was slow to start with and for the first two or three years they averaged about 40 trees.

“It was just personal ones that started it off and when businesses realised the trees were regular they asked if they could put a tree in.

“We were going through the 199 steps fundraising so the businesses that helped fund the steps had a tree the following year to continue with the fundraising.

“It just took off from there and I don’t think Sheila thought it would still be going 10 years later.”

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St Mary's Christmas Tree feature''w135102b

The exhibition provides an extra connection between St Mary’s and the Whitby community.

In addition to the trees in the exhibition there is a special tree where people can tie a ribbon on it to remember those no longer with us.

Diane said: “So many people come and thoroughly enjoy the trees. We have people coming back to put trees up in memorian. That is something that is really important to us - that people can feel that they can do that.

“It brings people into the church, and it is lovely that they will come and spend time in the church and the chancel where they can just sit and be quiet.

“We have people coming from further afield and you think ‘what’s the connection? “But it might be that their grandparents were married here or their parents grew up here and they just come back.”

However, the exhibition does not appear to prove popular with everyone and the team at St Mary’s have to be mindful that it is still a working church.

She added: “We did have one visitor that didn’t like the trees and didn’t think it was appropriate but a lot of churches are having festivals now.

“We had a big funeral last week but the family were happy for the trees to be here because they were a local family. We have to make sure the church is still accessible to be used. We can’t just shut off and say we aren’t having anything else in.

“For the three days it takes to put them up, it is hard work. But when you see it on the preview afternoon all together an dlit up it is worth it. The first few days after they have all been taken back down - it looks so bare.”

There is no entry fee to look at the Christmas trees but the church does ask for a donation towards the cost of the electricity.

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St Mary's Christmas Tree feature''w135102a