Magic Tree is the perfect example of holiday spirit: It brings CoMo together, it’s an amazing photo (selfie?) opportunity, and there’s a rumor that it helps out during finals week.
But you see, dear reader, it’s a whole lot more than all that as well.
In 1995, Columbia resident Will Treelighter started lighting a tree in his front yard. But when Treelighter (also known as Randy Fletcher) lights a tree, he doesn’t half-ass it. We’re talking every single inch.
Soon, the tree began attracting attention from neighbors, and eventually the whole town started to notice how great it was.
Fletcher says he soon began to feel conflicted about the project, though. Part of him was hearing incredible encouragement from the community to continue his now-annual tradition; the other part was feeling pretty guilty about the monetary investment.
Rather than quit the project altogether, Fletcher decided to adapt it. It was time for his Magic Tree to have a higher purpose –– truths espoused in the form of flyers.
“I begin with simple spiritual sort of truths, I think, such as ‘beauty is the signature of love,’” Fletcher says.
Junior Gabry Tyson sees Fletcher’s efforts through a slightly different light.
“You can see that the person who does this is obviously passionate about this town and wants to provide something to the people who live here,” she says.
Tyson respects the tree as primarily a CoMo holiday tradition.
“That’s one of its unique quirks,” she says. “It brings the community together.”
Sophomore Ginger Hervey also used “quirky” to describe the tree.
“I think Columbia is this weird mix between a college town and a family town,” she says. “Little quirky places like that are kind of an appeal to both.”
Fletcher also uses his flyers to promote some of his more nontraditional viewpoints, such as the idea of a “world teacher,” an interfaith Messiah-like figure.
Nowadays, Magic Tree is located at the Village of Cherry Hill in southwest Columbia. It’s a short drive from campus, but totally worth the trip.
“No matter where you’re from…you can’t help looking at the tree and thinking, ‘Wow,’” Hervey says.
Don Ginsburg, one of three developers at Cherry Hill, says the tree is the best thing, publicity-wise, that has ever happened to the community.
“It’s only been a positive attribute,” Ginsburg says.
The community recently planted a crabapple tree that will become the new Magic Tree once it has grown.
Fletcher is grateful to the community, which donates a substantial amount of money to promote the tree each season. He still completes the task on his own, though, and considers himself a volunteer. He says it’s all worth it so he can continue to produce his flyer and share his views.
“I hope somehow to share with people the same sense that I got from the very beautiful natural scene I saw that caused me to seek out beauty more in my life,” he says.
Fletcher encourages college students to come see Magic Tree, but warns them to be quiet and respectful of the community they are visiting.
The tree will be lit from dusk to 11 p.m. starting Thanksgiving Eve and continuing until Jan. 6. There will be an official tree-lighting ceremony on Dec. 11 at 5 p.m. as a part of the Village of Cherry Hill’s annual holiday festival.