Holiday Hoopla rolls through New Paltz, spreading socially-distanced cheer

Last Sunday afternoon, a parade of first responders handed out candy canes in the Village of New Paltz. The parade included New Paltz Youth Program Director Jim Tinger as Santa, Town of New Paltz Community Education Coordinator Phoenix Kawamoto as the polar bear, volunteers from High Falls Hoopers for Humanity and members of the Tin Horn Uprising. (Photo by Lauren Thomas)

When it’s not safe for people to gather to celebrate their Yuletide holiday of choice, someone needs to bring the celebration to the people. At least, that’s what New Paltz Youth Program director Jim Tinger and Community Education coordinator Phoenix Kawamoto thought. So, they put their heads together, reached out to municipal agencies and came up with a rolling party called Holiday Hoopla that visited various sites throughout the village on Sunday afternoon. “These times call for creative measures. We’re the Happiness Crew,” Kawamoto said.

Led by a New Paltz Highway Department pickup truck carrying a PA blaring Christmas carols, Kawamoto in a polar bear costume and Tinger garbed as the leanest Santa you’re ever likely to see, a caravan of first-responder vehicles set out at noon from Village Hall and made its way slowly down Plattekill Avenue to Main Street. The police cars, ambulance and firetrucks whooped their sirens to attract the socially distanced attention of holiday shoppers as percussionists from the brass band Tin Horn Uprising rattled out an infectious rhythm and four hula-hoopers dressed in elvish motley pranced and danced. Santa and his helpers handed out free candy canes to all masked passersby who approached.

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For the next two hours, the Holiday Hoopla mini-parade took a loop up Henry W. DuBois Drive, stopping off at the Town & Country Condominiums, Village Arms Apartments, Mulberry Square, New Paltz Gardens, Meadowbrook Farm and New Paltz Commons. “We definitely needed something like this,” said Meadowbrook resident Amber Jarosch as she watched the frolic from her building entryway with her eight-year-old daughter Baileigh and one-year-old son Tobias Oakley. “It’s his first candy cane,” noted Jarosch, holding Tobias on her hip. “He loved the firetrucks.”

New Paltz fire chief Cory Wirthmann seemed to be having just as much fun as the onlookers. “Tons of kids came out. We love to see the smiles and waving,” he said. “At New Paltz Gardens, every window had a head in it.” According to police chief Rob Lucchesi, nearly all of the town’s first responders were participating on their own time. “Everybody is volunteering, except for one sergeant who’s on duty today.”

As the caravan set up operations in Tops Plaza, with the marching band and hoop dancers cavorting from one end of the sidewalk to the other, New Paltz resident Marie Marshall stopped to chat. “Isn’t this perfect?” she asked, indicating Santa waving beneficently to shoppers. “I feel like the Messiah came to town. He raises his hands and everybody smiles.”

Marshall, a social worker, said that she’d been following the Holiday Hoopla crew on their rounds through all the housing complexes. “It’s Covid-safe, and it livens up the entire town. Yay, New Paltz! We did it!”

Afterwards, Kawamoto told Hudson Valley One, “Given the enthusiastic and warm reception by community members of all ages, we are already discussing possible additions to next year’s event.” Meanwhile, they’re working on preparations for the seventh annual New Paltz Eve celebration — the first virtual version, offering Web-based activities and performances on New Year’s Eve. A special event page will be created and linked to the Town of New Paltz Facebook page, Kawamoto said.