• Otter Views: ‘Tis the Season

    by Tom Stevens

    Several hundred bundled figures thronged Jewell Park in the early darkness Monday to welcome the winter holiday season. It was a tightly packed but festive gathering.

    At the farmers’ market, the wool hat knitter reminded passersby that a mid-week cold snap was coming. The produce stands did a brisk trade in persimmons as bright as tree ornaments. Savory aromas of wood-fired pizza, Thai curry, and spicy tandoori floated up from the food trucks into a cobalt sky ablaze with stars. Out over Lover’s Point, Cassiopeia reclined in her sparkly celestial chair and admired her reflection in the dark bay.

    Shortly after 5, the streets bordering the park became a human river of parents pushing strollers and bearing toddlers on their shoulders. Laughing pre-schoolers dodged through a forest of legs. Elderly grandparents edged cautiously along in the current, which pulled everyone toward the Natural History Museum.

    There the crowd swept like a high tide up to the rope line and came to a restless halt. Beyond the barrier, two honor band brass players from the town middle school were coping manfully with the elements. Despite gusty breezes and dim lighting, the trumpet-trombone duo played every carol in their song pamphlets with brio and polish. The crowd doffed its mittens to applaud.

    Next up were 150 grade school choristers who in a previous season had paraded through town as butterflies and moon jellyfish. Now molted into Christmas elves, they awaited their director’s signal to duck beneath the rope lines and take their places on the museum steps in a polite, orderly, well rehearsed sequence.

    Fortunately, that didn’t happen. After her introduction, the director turned from her music stand and firmly reminded the children to “walk.” At “walk,” the kids swarmed up the stairs laughing, colliding, scrambling and clambering in joyous pandemonium.

    Sooner than might have seemed possible, though, they were lined up on the steps by grade and chattering happily with their neighbors. “One, two, three, eyes on me!” sang the director. “One, two, eyes on you!” chorused the children, who then immediately fell silent. The parents in the crowd could only smile enviously.

    The director then led her youthful chorus through an ambitious programme of Spanish language and hannukah favorites as well as traditional Christmas carols. I didn’t count the songs, but there had to be a dozen at least. Each was delivered on key with pace, clarity, warmth, spirit and cohesion – no easy feat for 150 voices of any age. In addition, a peppy choreography of arms swing, finger shakes, hip sways and foot stomps accompanied the singing.

    Perhaps most impressive was the sheer happy energy the chorus pumped out. Not only did they know every line of every song – including that memory teaser “The Twelve Days of Christmas” – they clearly enjoyed singing them all. Their smiles never flagged, and their focus never wavered. Well, almost never. It’s tough when all those cell phones are flashing and parents are calling “Wave! Wave!”

    Once the choristers had demanded figgy pudding right now and wished everyone happy holidays, they surged back down the steps to try to find their families in the dark. Into the footlights stepped the mayor and a quartet of town councilors, who led a rocket-launch countdown for the lighting of the tree. Everyone turned toward the park. At “zero!” the strings of colored lights blazed to life, and the cell phones dutifully recorded the moment.

    santa takes a walkAt that very moment, meanwhile, the PG volunteer fire engine stopped at the end of the block to disgorge a familiar white-bearded, black-booted, red-clad figure. That was the crowd’s cue to form another human river, this one flowing along behind Santa to the venerable Chautauqua Hall.

    With minimal confusion and remarkable politeness, the crowd filed past cheerful green-caped elf greeters into the hall. The big room twinkled with holiday lights and festive décor, and tables full of cookies and hot cider beckoned those in line. At the end of the line, two friendly elves flanked Santa’s chair. There the great man kindly greeted children, sat them on his wide knee, and listened to their requests. Some very little children, of course, wept in terror.

    As I watched the line shuffle forward, I spotted an acquaintance and went over to reminisce about our respective Santa encounters. He mentioned taking his kids to see a Hawaiian Santa while vacationing in the islands one Christmas.

    “I was a Santa there one year,” I said. “I had the whole kit, boots and beard and all. But I didn’t know how to do the eyebrows, so I used a whole bottle of White-Out. It was a bad mistake. My eyebrows got very crusty and scary-looking. There was a fair amount of crying.”

    May your holiday season be White-Out free.

    posted to Cedar Street Times on December 5, 2013

    Topics: Otter Views

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