The spirit of giving was much in evidence at the annual Christmas parade and community tree-lighting in downtown Gardiner last Friday evening. With Main Street blocked off by Fire Department vehicles from Town Hall to the Reformed Church, the crowd of hundreds of mostly local residents assembled at Gardiner Gables. There, volunteers from the Gardiner Day Committee, who had organized the event, readied participants to promenade safely in the dark by handing out free glow-sticks: the 21st-century equivalent of carrying lit candles, without the hazard of getting one’s hands burnt by drops of melting wax.
As the line of marchers headed westward, led by a fire engine rolling at a majestic pace whilst broadcasting holiday carols, three imaginative youngsters got an idea: to link their glow-sticks end-to-end instead of wearing them as headpieces. The kids’ high spirits proved contagious, and soon various fellow walkers began offering them their own glow-sticks to add to their construction. They gleefully accepted.
Stopping frequently to affix newly donated segments, the three young Gardinerites — Annabelle Brutvan, 9, and siblings Parker and Nicholas Paff, 9 and 7 respectively — were at the back of the parade by the time it reached its turnaround point at the church. But their rope of glow-sticks had grown to a length that three kids could no longer manage to carry in procession without looping segments of it: 15, perhaps 20 feet in total. “We must combine!” said one in a mock-ceremonious tone. “It’s so long!” exulted another.
Somehow the trio made it all the way back to the parade’s terminus at Town Hall without their luminescent swag falling apart, and they stayed together throughout the festivities to figure out how else they could play with it. Meanwhile, there was plenty of other celebratory activity going on, all of it provided on a volunteer basis. The Leapettes, students from Mary Alexander’s Level Five Jazz class at Take the Leap Dance Studio, lined up dressed in matching white cable sweaters and black tights to perform. To the tune of “Santa Claus is Coming to Town,” the young dancers showed off their Broadway moves, ending with a Rockettes-style chorus line executing impressively high kicks. Ah, to be young, strong and flexible!
Next came the actual lighting of the live Yule tree, overseen by the firefighters and propelled by a crowd countdown from ten. An enormous illuminated snowflake topper was a new addition this year, according to town supervisor Marybeth Majestic, and all the white lights adorning the tree now have energy-conserving LED bulbs, as befits a town in pursuit of official Energy-Smart Community status.
“It’s a wonderful event,” Majestic observed, in a jocular mood. “Where else can you shut down a state highway [Route 44/55] so people can enjoy a holiday tradition in their hometown?” She proudly pointed out a variety of decorations that she and her husband had assembled from backyard greenery cuttings to make the entryways to Town Hall look more festive and welcoming for the winter holiday season: bundles of holly and a couple of mini-“trees” made from evergreen branches draped over tomato cages.
Another decorated Christmas tree was set up inside the building’s central hallway, at one end of a line of tables where Gardiner Day Committee volunteers, some of them dressed as Santa’s elves, set out platter after platter of cookies and other home-baked treats — again, all donated. Jackie Wild filled cups with drinks made from her “super-secret hot chocolate recipe.” Both the courtroom and the board meeting room were abuzz with happy, cookie-fueled Gardinerites, catching up with neighbors and generally kicking off the season of good cheer with alcohol-free enthusiasm.
On the park bench out in front of the building, families with small children stood patiently in line to make their Christmas-morning wishes known to Santa and Ms. Claus, represented by Luke Lyons and Lois Dippel. One after another, the kids posed for their photo ops and collected their free candy canes. “What did you ask for?” the New Paltz Times queried of four-year-old Gardinerite Ryder Finigan as he came away from his turn with the celebrity couple from the North Pole. “Presents!” replied Ryder, beaming. Ah, to be a preschooler, and still delighted with whatever you get!