This time of year the Rikes Christmas displays are a popular topic with many generations. Lot’s of pictures and stories are revived and shared, mostly on social media sights. Dayton continues to celebrate and cling to the wonder years of Rikes Christmas, even making the trip downtown to see the remnants of the past on display in the Wintergarden of the Schuster Performing Arts Center on the site of the former department store. One thing is certain, Dayton values tradition, especially when there’s an entertainment factor. But one quiet, humble and reverent tradition sits in the peripheral vision of Dayton residents.
That tradition is the holy star that floats between the twin towers of St. Mary’s Church on Xenia Avenue. Looking down upon the neighborhood whose namesake is a house of worship, the holy star of Twin Towers is such a flickering gem that it’s lost in the Dayton skyline. This holy star appears in Dayton’s eastern sky from the Saturday after Thanksgiving to the middle of January.
For nearly 60 years, (that was the collective guess), a group of parishioners, neighborhood residents and family friends make this event part of their holiday tradition. About 2 weeks prior to Thanksgiving, the star is taken out of storage and the process of checking lights, wires and supportive structures begins and the star is prepared for hanging.
Here’s where it get’s interesting. There are no cranes, no cherry pickers, no mechanics. It’s all human powered. The harrowing adventure to the top of the St. Mary’s twin towers would challenge even the most adventurous risk taker.
The structure built in 1906 is very difficult to navigate, with many levels of narrow stair wells, some being more steep than a ladder. The higher the level, the more steep and narrow, sometimes even too narrow for shoulders of a human of average stature. The men who scale these treacherous structures each year are not young gun thrill seekers. One of the roof top team is 77 years old. (I’ll withhold his name to keep him out of trouble with his wife!) The Saturday morning process of hanging the star takes an average of 2 1/2 hours, by design. I assumed the pre-noon deadline had to do with avoiding someone being deafened by the twelve o’clock bells but the reality had more to do with kick off time for the OSU game.
Listen to the audio track under the slideshow in the embedded Youtube video, as Jerry Woeste gives details of the construction of the star and the process of hanging this glistening artifact high in the Dayton skyline.
In the hours I spent with the star installation group that Saturday morning, I was amazed at the courage of the men on the roof and the towers. I was entertained by the ropes team on the street but more than anything, I was humbled by the spirit of this small, dedicated group of people. It goes without saying, this is a labor of love.
The hearts of this group are as big as the star itself. I never thought to ask “why?”. That was kind of a given. As the Twin Towers neighborhood struggles to reinvent itself, you can feel the power of such groups as the East End Community Center, New Hope Church and the amazing staff of Ruskin Elementary.
The ground is starting to shift in Twin Towers as the grassroots redevelopment of the Xenia Ave. business corridor is beginning. The international fabric of immigrant families is bringing new life to vacant properties as well. You can hear five different languages walking down McClure Ave. alone. Murals are replacing negative messages scrawled on structures and a community garden, complete with bee hives, is blossoming change in the neighborhood. St. Mary’s is a refuge in many respects, serving the Twin Towers neighborhood. I felt a lot of love in just the 3 hours I spent with this group. If you spend any time in Twin Towers, you feel the ripples of such love in the community. Structures and landscapes come and go but the human condition is built on the ground of compassion and dignity. Where, who or even IF you worship, this season is a time to pause and reflect on the love between you and your fellow man. As many Dayton neighborhoods struggle to change, reinvent and mend their brokenness, we need traditions and icons to guide us. Like the star of St. Mary’s over Twin Towers, we need these beacons of hope and faith. (One only needs to look “up”.)
St. Mary’s Church is located at 310 Allen St, Dayton, OH 45410
Equally impressive is the massive nativity scene inside the church. This set takes months to build, (an approx. 120 man hours in a concentrated few weeks), and has been part of the St. Mary’s church tradition for generations. The annual nativity open house is held Dec. 26, 27 & 28, 6:00 – 8:00 PM and Sunday Dec. 29 from 3:00 – 5:00.
For more information about the nativity and St. Mary’s Church, visit www.stmarysdayton.org