Christmas tree bonfire draws hundreds to Riverhead Beach

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Hundreds of bundled-up Marbleheaders turned out for the annual Christmas tree bonfire at Riverhead Beach on a bitterly cold Friday evening, following a light snow and a week of near-constant precipitation.

“For the first time in a long time, and I’ve been doing this for a long time, it was a slow start,” Fire Chief Jason Gilliland told the Marblehead Current as the bonfire raged behind him. “It’s been raining for the last three or four days, so the trees were quite wet.” 

The pile of Christmas trees was much smaller and less impressive than years past, the chief said, even after the Department of Public Works collected them around town following the holidays. Some residents even dropped by on Friday night to hand theirs over to firefighters, who then threw them directly onto the inferno. 

Boy Scouts, who place and light red flares during the Fourth of July’s Marblehead Harbor Illumination, threw flares on the tree pile to kick off the annual tree burning. It was a bit smokey before the bonfire got underway in earnest.

“We wanted to do a ceremonial lighting of the tree and make it special for them,” said the fire chief about the Boy Scouts’ participation. “So I think it was 10 or 12 of them who lined up around the pile and each threw a flare in.” 

Jackie Burke and Kelsey Maguire grew up in town and graduated from Marblehead High School in 2019. The bonfire reunited the pair and their hometown friends who now live outside the state. 

“I’ve lived in California for last four years,” said Burke. “Because, you know, you can’t burn anything in California, so this is a real treat.” 

Maguire added, “It’s nice to be here in front of the bonfire. It just really cozy.”

A slight breeze sent embers and ash flying in all different directions.

“Oh, I love it,” said Robin Taliesin. “The way the flames get released into the air. I was just observing that it’s a lot like a campfire. It’s just bigger.” 

She added, “It’s beautiful.”

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