“Family and tradition”: Recreation Commissioner Colleen Gialanella talks about Holiday Home Decorating Contest

Santa+Claus+makes+an+appearance+with+two+of+the+Recreation+staff+members.+He+has+visited+the+families+participating+in+the+Holiday+Home+Decorating+contest+for+many+years.+

Photo courtesy of Colleen Gialanella

Santa Claus makes an appearance with two of the Recreation staff members. He has visited the families participating in the Holiday Home Decorating contest for many years.

Keira Baerson, Staff Writer

On Dec. 13, voting commenced for the annual Scotch Plains Holiday Home Decorating contest. 

 

With the efforts of the Recreation Commision, this contest has been made possible. Their inspiration originally stemmed from the holiday cheer in various other communities. 

 

“We know that neighboring communities had done [holiday] decorating contests and it just seemed like such a positive thing to do,” Recreation Commissioner Colleen Gialanella told The Fanscotian. “We wanted to bring it to Scotch Plains.” 

 

This was supported by the full Recreation Commision, mayor and council. 

 

Aside from the beautiful displays of holiday lights, this contest consisted of two driving goals: creating a spirit of community and collecting food items for the community food bank. 

 

Over the past couple of years, the contest has evolved. Prior to the pandemic, in addition to voting, families were asked to bring a canned good item to a house or collection site. While lots of food was collected, due to COVID-19, a more efficient way has been utilized to help those in need. 

 

For the past two years, families registered in the contest have been asked to donate money to the community food bank of New Jersey. 

 

“We became aware that the food bank has more purchasing power and can do more with money than they can with food donations,” Gialanella said. 

I think that the holidays, maybe because it is just the way they fall with the end of the year being close, are a good time for reflection. That’s where I think you see a lot of generosity to different causes and community groups. [There is] an awareness that while some of us have nice warm houses to go to and family to get together with, not everybody has those circumstances.”

— Colleen Gialanella

In past years the Recreation Commision has handed out flyers at Trunk-or-Treat to promote this event. 

 

One of the biggest draws to this contest is that Santa visits each participating household with the Scotch Plains Fire Department. 

 

“The amazing thing there is that our firefighters are already volunteers,” Gialanella said. “On top of being volunteers, they do so much to help make the community better and to help people just love living in Scotch Plains.” 

 

In the past, gift certificates from local businesses have been distributed to the winners of the contest. 

 

“Last year, we did gift certificates through recreation. We didn’t want to ask local businesses for gift certificates because we knew [they] were really hurting,” Gialanella said. “This year, there’s a trophy!” 

 

The SPF community is grateful to the Recreation Director and staff who have put their all into making the holidays special in town with this event. 

 

“I think that the holidays, maybe because it is just the way they fall with the end of the year being close, are a good time for reflection,” Gialanella said. “That’s where I think you see a lot of generosity to different causes and community groups. [There is] an awareness that while some of us have nice warm houses to go to and family to get together with, not everybody has those circumstances.”