It was a Rockwellian winter night this past Friday as hundreds of local residents paraded through Historic Huguenot Street, carrying paper lanterns and children bundled in snowsuits and woolen onesies. The crisp outlines of the stone houses cast shadows on the ice-layered snow as carolers and eager children gathered around the Northern spruce on the Deyo House lawn for the seventh annual community tree-lighting ceremony.
“It’s our opportunity to give back to the community and to create an event where people walk the entire length of the street,” said Frances Vigna, the HHS marketing and communications director. Led by carolers, including New Paltz High School singer Mark Laborde, residents, couples, families, children and pets all strolled along the oldest incorporated street in America — Huguenot Street — humming holiday tunes, carrying white lanterns and snowflake-bedazzled glow necklaces until the lighting of the tree. Then they rushed back to the porch of Deyo House, where Mr. and Mrs. Santa Claus sat waiting for all who wanted to get their pictures taken and their holiday wish lists heard.
“We also give free tours that are all historically researched and detailed and have a specific theme,” said Vigna. This year the theme focused on how our European ancestors celebrated a Victorian Christmas. There were free holiday-themed tours of some of the historic homes held both on Friday evening and throughout the day on Saturday, December 7.
“It’s a great way to bring people together and to do it in a festive way that is all free,” said Vigna. “It’s so fun to be the photographer and get to document the children’s faces when they are carrying the lanterns or seeing Santa Claus for the first time. All of the reactions are priceless.”
Along the route to Deyo House was the Cookie Walk, located inside the always-cozy Old DuBois Fort, home to HHS’ Museum Shop and Visitors’ Center. The Cookie Walk included thousands of homemade cookies ranging from the traditional to the exotic, sold by the pound as a fundraiser for Local at Heart, an organization dedicated to raising funds for regional food pantries. “We’ve been baking until 1 a.m. every night,” said Local at Heart volunteer Barbara Londa. “Underneath this table there are literally thousands of more cookies, and by tomorrow at 3 p.m. there will only be crumbs left,” said Linda Engler, another volunteer for Cookie Walk. “All of our proceeds go to support food pantries in New Paltz, Gardiner, Rondout Valley and Wallkill.”
There were peanut butter buckeyes, Mexican wedding cake cookies and Red Stag Bourbon balls, just to name a few of the popular delicacies being purchased for a good cause.
“We do this event in tandem with the Reformed Church,” said Vigna, noting that the church has also had a longstanding tradition of offering a holiday crafts fair, bazaar and fireside room with cookies and hot cocoa.
Kathy Martin and Pat Kelley of the Reformed Church were busy on that blustery evening, stringing holiday lights along their tent outside of the church steps for Soup on the Stoop. “It’s an annual tradition where we offer fresh, homemade hot soup to everyone and anyone,” said Kelley. “There’s tomato/red pepper, butternut squash, chicken noodle, vegetarian and vegan soups!” Martin recalled what a great venue HHS was when her daughter got married at the church. “We had a busload of people from out of town, and we booked tours of the historic homes and then went to the Walkway Over the Hudson. Those two things are a great way to show family and friends some of the treasures of where we live.”
Over in the fireside room were theme-decorated trees, with all of the one-of-a-kind, handmade ornaments for sale. There was the “New Paltz Tree” with shellacked wooden ornaments with images of rock climbers, Sky Top Tower, Mohonk Mountain House, the Bistro, P & G’s, Rock & Snow, the Old Main Building and the Reformed Church. There was another tree that was decorated like Alice in Wonderland, with cards and Mad Hatters and crooked teacups dangling off branches.
Perched in the middle of a long table filled with hand-knitted scarves, gloves, hats, bags, afghans and children’s sweaters was a small tree filled with dazzlingly cute teddy-bear ornaments. “This is in honor of one of our original members [of the Knitting Club], Marie Wiersum, who passed away this summer at age 95,” said Lisa Curtis. “She loved teddy bears, and so this tree is decorated with hand-knitted and hand-felted teddy bears in her memory.” According to Sue Van Alst, who has been working the Reformed Church holiday crafts fair for almost three decades, Wiersum was “the children’s librarian at the Elting Memorial Library, and she was one of the original founders of our Knitting Club. She was born and raised in New Paltz.” The Reformed Church Knitting Club meets twice weekly and creates works stitched with love for premature babies, blankets for shelters and beautiful works that can be worn for both fashion and sensibility.
To bring the community out together on a chilly, dark winter evening and light candles, purchase cookies for a cause and delight in the creativity that abounds at the crafts fair is one of the many reasons why living in a small town can help make the holidays a little bit brighter.