First New York, one day after Thanksgiving:
Al and I usually take Christmas Day off and visit New York. It is the day our kids go to their other parents’ homes and we are free. This year, we did it early. We went to New York the day after Thanksgiving. After eating a wonderfully heavy Thanksgiving dinner, it was time for a long walk. And New York is the place to walk everywhere.
We take the train to New York Penn Station. When you walk up the long flight of stairs, you are on 7th Avenue. We hear singing before we reach the top of the stairs. To our surprise, instead of the ever ringing bells of the Salvation Army “Christmas Kettle Campaign” which started in 1891 to collect donations for the needy, we face a singing and dancing quartet of Salvation Army cadets and volunteers. You will love this video taped in 2010 outside of Grand Central Station. They are very talented cadets. Apparently, this is a grass-roots effort which started a few years ago, got attention on YouTube videos posted by passersby and then spread quickly in New York City. This is New York! And we love it.
In New York, we walk up 7th Avenue, then to 6th Avenue to see Bryant Park adjacent to the magnificent New York Library. It is my favorite park in New York. It is ready for Christmas. Beautiful, tall London plane trees are reaching for the sky with their sans-leaf branches ready for the arrival of the snow in winter. The ice skating rink is full with skaters of all ages. Over a hundred little Christmas kiosks are filled with trinkets, clothes, soaps, chocolate, hot cider, and Christmas ornaments.
We each pop a piece of chocolate (that you are not supposed to bite, since it melts in your mouth) in our mouths and check out the beautifully framed photographs and smell soaps of all varieties. The open-air library is not in the park now- only in summer does it boast bookcases bulging with books. I am sure they will bring them back after Christmas. The carousel is beautiful, a bit lost behind the big ice skating rink. With the addition of outdoor heaters, many people are drinking their beer, wine, or coffee outside enjoying the bustle and hustle of the park.
We walk to the end of the park and cross over to 5th avenue. The sidewalks are getting more crowded, especially as we near the world-famous Rockefeller Center. All the Christmas decorations are in. My favorite ones are the angels blowing horns on the center’s promenade from 5th Avenue to the Ice Skating Rink in the center. The first time I saw these angels was at my first Christmas in New York in 1983. Everything looked magical then. They still look magical.
The Christmas Tree is not yet lit. All the lights are in and workers are getting the stands ready for the official tree-lighting ceremony on December 3rd.
It gets windy and cold as the evening approaches. We reach Central Park, but decide not to continue. We trace our steps back to the train station stopping midway at a café for a snack and a glass of wine.
On our walk back, we see a saxophone player on the street corner. Two minutes later, we see a stretch limo with a back tinted window down with a little dog sticking his head out. There is nobody else in the limo. New York: a city of all sorts of lives.
After our short stop for a glass of wine, we arrive at the New York Penn Station. The same Salvation Army cadets are still dancing. We hear that their schedule is 8 hours a day.
It was a great day in New York. I think this will be our tradition from now on.
Now Keyport, two days after Thanksgiving:
And the day after our New York walk, we attend the Christmas tree lighting ceremony and Santa’s arrival celebration at the Mini Park in Keyport. Before the ceremony, we rush to Gina’s Restaurant for a quick pizza with our son, daughter-in-law, and two wonderful grandkids, ages five and two. It is going to be the little one’s first encounter with Santa. Everybody at Gina’s is helping us to get going so we won’t miss the Christmas Lighting at 6 pm.
We make it right before the official Keyport Christmas tree is lit. We are hearing the fire trucks blaring at a distance. The noise is getting closer. Santa Claus and Mrs. Claus are coming with all the bells and whistles, i.e. fire trucks’ sirens. This is the moment I love. In any event, be it Santa’s arrival for the kids of Keyport, or the St. Patrick’s Day in March, or any of the Keyport sports team’s winnings, the proud fire trucks of Keyport are ready to take to the streets. It makes my throat tickle and my eyes water. These firefighters save us from the storms, fires, and they are ready to make Keyport all exciting and beautiful. I feel I belong to this town one more time.
All decked out with Christmas lights, all the Keyport fire trucks arrive at the Mini Park. Santa and Mrs. Claus take their seat under a canopy to greet the kids. Our little ones get their chance to sit on Santa’s lap. A second later, I finally realize who the Santa and Mrs. Claus are. Great job!
The elves tell us that there is an ornament workshop at the Borough Hall. I guess immediately who is heading the workshop. What a great idea. This is the third ornament making workshop they are holding this year. There are wooden cutouts of stars, bells, trees, and many other shapes and forms. There are Dixie cups that can be made into bells. There are crayons, felt pens, glitter, glue, and strings.
After they make their ornaments, the kids can take their creations home or hang them on the town’s Christmas tree. I even make one and put it on the town’s tree. This is yet another wonderful example of town getting together to make its own Christmas tree beautiful. It is like the stone soup. It is the effort by the town’s people for the town’s people.
Now the tree looks more beautiful and more meaningful. This year Keyport performed its magic trick- taking another humble, slightly bent tree, adding ornaments homemade by the kids we love most and ending up with something proud and glorious.
Today, our Christmas tree in Keyport stands proud showcasing the ornaments made by our own kids and grandkids. Hope all ornaments survive through these windy cold days.
We walk back home holding our grandkids’ little hands. I notice the ever-changing window decorations at the Family Dollar Store, now reflecting toys and stuffed animals for kids. I wish the store did a better job at that. What a contrast between New York and Keyport window decorations. But, I still like the feeling of being at home, at my home town celebrating the holidays.