In Beacon, a new generation of Valley-ites is growing up with a holiday tradition that strays from the classic beaten path. It’s a Christmas tree without branches, ornaments, or even an angel atop — yet each year, locals gather by the thousands to get a glimpse of the modest, though miraculous, site. The Beacon Bicycle Tree, fixed with recycled bike parts and funky, festive lights, can be found nestled within Polhill Park, just beside the Beacon Welcome Center. It’s the artistic creation of local sculptor Ed Benavente, who’s spearheaded perhaps the most outlandish merry movement in all the Valley.
Before its inaugural display in 2011, a community-wide longing to create an official city tree yielded multiple attempts. Though initiated with good intentions, according to Benavente, each execution fell short without an extensive budget. So Benavente, a BeaconArts board member at the time, took it upon himself to get creative with what was available. He said, “Beacon is a unique community which requires something out of the ordinary to bring together the wide range of its citizens to celebrate the holiday season.” Sure, he could’ve used any material to fulfill his artistic endeavors, but he chose the bike to represent Beacon’s burgeoning community. “The wheels on a bike are symbolic of progress,” he said. “They propel people forward as they go.”
A biker himself, Benavente delved into his own collection of two-wheelers to create the first tree. Though small, simple, and stationary, it received plenty of positive attention from passerbys, encouraging him to return the following year, and every year since. In that time, the tree has not only grown in size, but also in complexity. Last year’s tree included interactive features like mobile, spinning wheels, propelled by pedals, and a large, external structure for kids to climb on. Today, there’s even a Bicycle Menorah (make sure you catch the menorah lighting each night of Hanukkah starting December 24!). But Benavente says there’s still work ahead of him. “It’s not perfect,” he said. “Maybe it never will be, but that’s sort of like our community — it’s a constant work in progress. We do what we can, when we can, where we can.”
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Despite the tree’s advancements and popularity, Benavente stays true to his original vision, using only reused materials. “I try to repurpose things because I see the value in them,” he said. “Sure, you may not be able to use the object for what it was originally used for, but there’s still life in it. You just have to look at it in a different way.” He still reuses his own wheels, though he does accept and use many community bike donations.
The tree is sponsored by BeaconArts and the City of Beacon, celebrated annually with a tree lighting ceremony. This year’s celebration took place on Saturday, Dec. 10 featuring Christmas carols, free hot cocoa, and an appearance from the big man himself, Santa Claus.
“It’s not the Christmas tree that most people remember growing up with, but for so many of the children today, this is their Christmas tree,” said Kelly Ellenwood, Vice President of BeaconArts. “It’s another wonderful layer of tradition in our city.”