Germantown has changed a lot in the past 60 years, but one thing that has not changed is the way people celebrate Christmas. Even though Germantown has grown from a small farming town of about 100 people to an urban community of great proportions, there is that same sudden burst of community spirit, people gathering in churches and homes to celebrate the holiday together. Christmas seems to spread a warm glow over people so that they are friendlier and more giving.
Much of the holiday celebration centered on the church in the old days, as it does even now. In the mid-20th century there were five churches in Germantown: Neelsville Presbyterian, Trinity Methodist, St. Rose of Lima Catholic, Germantown Baptist, and Asbury Methodist. Most of them had Christmas pageants with children playing the parts, Christmas parties, and candlelight services on Christmas Eve.
As soon as electricity came to Germantown in the 1930s there were Christmas lights decorating houses, but there was not a lighted community Christmas tree until 1951. That tree was located in the middle of town, where Germantown Road crossed the railroad tracks -- now the intersection of Liberty Mill Road and Mateny Hill Road. In those days downtown Germantown consisted of a huge flourmill called Liberty Mill, a mill store, two general stores (one of which was also the post office), a barber shop, a bank and a railroad station.
Wilson Jordan was Santa Claus for Germantown from this first community celebration until 1988. Jordan passed away in 1996.
"Mr. Selby [owner/manager of Liberty Mill] thought it was a good idea, so we went out and cut a 15 foot tree and set it up at the corner, next to the bank,” Jordan said in a prior account. “The Mill provided oranges and candy for Santa to give to the children. The next year we planted a tree. It was given by Gude Nursery."
Jordan said the Lions Club didn't get involved until about 1974, when they put up the tree at the Post Office across from Germanton Elementary School.
“Up to that time the Mill, the Germantown Bank, the General Store with Herbert King as owner, and the Marylander Nursing came up with about $125 for oranges and candy," Jordan said.
The Lions Club was the sponsor, along with the local volunteer fire department, for the next 13 years.
Wilson Jordan’s “Howdy, Old Timer!” was a familiar greeting to children growing up in Germantown. He had come to the area with his wife Charlotte to be a minister at the Southern Methodist Church in 1930, but in 1932 he had a nervous breakdown. Probably serving as minister to three churches 10 miles from each other during the Great Depression may have had something to do with that. He never served as a minister again, but was a well-known helper at Trinity United Methodist Church, a founding member of the Germantown Lions Club, and the local electrician. Everyone knew Wilson and he knew everyone. He always said, “I never met a person I didn’t like. I may change my mind later, but I always greet them with an open heart.”
Sometimes Santa would come in a car, sometimes in a van, and for a few years, in a huge recreation vehicle decorated with Christmas lights. In 1984 he began arriving by horse-drawn wagon. But at the biggest Germantown Tree Lighting in 1989, he road a motorcycle. That year the community celebration was sponsored by the Montgomery County Police Department and moved from the post office to the moved to a tree in front of the gazebo at Rt. 118 and Middlebrook Road. There was a huge parade that included both the Seneca Valley High School Band and the Quince Orchard High School Band, as well as Majorette and Drum Corps, clowns, the high school R.O.T.C units, fire trucks, floats, antique cars, and the Seneca Valley High School Homecoming King and Queen. Free hot chocolate and candy canes were distributed by the Jaycees.
After a hiatus of about five years, the Montgomery County Historical Society and the Germantown Historical Society revived the celebration in 1997 holding the Tree Lighting in front of the Waters House with Santa arriving on a horse-drawn wagon, the Seneca Valley High School Chamber Singers providing music, and the Jaycees giving out free hot chocolate.
The last Community Tree Lighting was held in 2009.