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The magic of the season: Bettie Edwards helps to keep the spirit of Christmas alive
When Maggie Albertson, a former Islander, recently visited Vashon for the first time in about two years, The Little House was one of the first places she stopped. Not only did Albertson need a dose of Christmas, she needed a dose of Bettie Edwards.
Albertson, who worked at The Little House seasonally for about a decade, said its owner, Edwards, was not only a huge part of her holidays on Vashon, but integral to the whole Island’s Christmas celebrations.
Bettie Edwards, 65, is obsessed with Christmas, and she’s not afraid to show it. From decking out her eclectic shop to working to keep local holiday traditions alive, the lively and talkative shop owner seems to thrive on the holidays.
“She may even be Santa Claus,” Albertson joked. “We don’t know.”
Customers who visit The Little House during December are immediately greeted by Edwards’ cheery “Merry, merry!” And those who Edwards knows — which seems to be everyone on the Island — get a hug as well.
Albertson said coming to The Little House during the holidays is like stepping into Christmas itself. Decorations fill each room of the small shop, which was once a house. Ornaments painted by children hang on ribbons from the ceilings. And an 18-pound chocolate bar wrapped in plastic sits on a large cookie sheet; at some point, it will be given away to a random customer.
“It’s just magical here,” Albertson said.
Edwards’ Christmas influences reach far beyond the walls of her store, though. Almost as soon as she took over ownership of The Little House 34 years ago, Edwards began housing Santa’s cottage, a place for children to visit Santa and have their photos taken, in the shop’s garage and lighting a large tree nearby for the town to enjoy.
And some three decades ago, as a room mother for a third-grade classroom at Chautauqua Elementary School, Edwards had her third-graders sing at the tree lighting by her shop.
Today, that Christmas tree is a towering Douglas fir in Ober Park, and the Christmas tradition Edwards helped to initiate has become a community-wide, Santa-led parade through town, culminating at the tree, where hundreds of people gather around it and sing.
Edwards was floored a couple of years ago when one of the first third-graders to sing at the tree lighting paid her a visit. Now an adult, the woman showed Edwards a poem she had read as a small girl at the lighting in which she dreamed of one day bringing her own children to see the tree. True to the poem, the woman returned to Vashon two years ago for the tree lighting with her baby in her arms.
“I just burst into tears,” Edwards said.
This year, Edwards saw her efforts come full circle at the tree lighting as her young grandson Logan sang with his third-grade class and flipped the switch that lit the tree.
“It was really a special moment,” she said.
This year’s Christmas parade was also especially meaningful to Edwards, as it paid homage to Donald “Doc” Eastly, a dear friend of Edwards who was a fixture of Christmas on Vashon for years.
Edwards, who was a personal friend of Eastly, or as she calls him, “the big elf,” remembers helping Eastly decorate the cart that his beloved shire horses would pull in the parade and use to give children rides around town.
Eastly, who died four years ago, was honored in this year’s parade when children carried the bells that once adorned the shires. Those same bells are now on display in Edwards’ shop.
“Doc was a monument,” Edwards said. “The children were always so excited to see him.”
Edwards was glad to see Vashon also take on new tradition this year, though, as Doug Snyder decorated an antique tractor and cart that similarly led the parade and provided hay rides to children.
“When we lost Doc we lost a tradition, but now we have new tradition,” she said.
The tradition that is perhaps closest to Edwards’ heart, however, is Santa’s cottage.
Though some local business owners eventually built an actual cottage for Santa, Edwards has continued to oversee it each year.
Today the cottage, which now sits next to the Village Green, offers children more than just a chance to sit in Santa’s lap. Each year he reads books to preschoolers, accepts canned food donations for the food bank and collects letters from Island children.
This year, Edwards said, Santa was so busy that Mrs. Claus decided to make a few appearances at the cottage as well, helping children compose their letters.
“We make sure all the children who write letters to Santa and put them in the mailbox get personal answers. … It’s all about making a child smile,” she said.
Though Edwards has undoubtedly played a significant role in shaping Vashon’s holiday traditions, the longtime Islander is reluctant to take credit for doing so.
“It’s all about we as a group,” she said, adding that such traditions could continue only on a place with as much community spirit as Vashon. She is pleased, too, to see the traditions continue and support the community in focusing on something besides the commercialism of the season.
“Part of it comes down to wanting that sustainable feeling, making us a better community.”
But Edwards said she wouldn’t have the energy or will to continue such efforts year after year if not for the wonderful people she shares the Island and the holidays with, such as her old friend Albertson.
“That’s the kind of person that makes you stick it out for that period of time,” she said.