By Karen Zautyk
It was bitter cold last Thursday night – at least according to the thermometer. In front of Kearny Town Hall, however, there was holiday warmth. There was joy to the world.
The occasion was the annual Holiday Tree Lighting Festival, sponsored by the town and the KUEZ (Kearny Urban Enterprise Zone).
The event ran from 5:30 to 9 p.m., with the tree lighting itself set for 6:30. By that time, Kearny Ave. — closed to traffic from Liberty St. to Quincy Ave. — was filled with onlookers, including masses of excited children.
The crowd was far too big for a head count by your correspondent, but KUEZ coordinator John Peneda told The Observer that, judging from prior years’ stats, he would estimate that 1,500 to 2,000 people were in attendance.
The tree lighting has been a Kearny tradition for decades, but Mayor Alberto Santos noted that the current “full program” had been staged for only the last dozen or so years. According to the KUEZ, the holiday event has grown tremendously in the last five years, “nearly tripling its size and scope.”
The program now features, among other treats, a visit from Santa Claus and his elves, carnival games, a concert, Frosty the Snowman dance party, giveaways, and strolling characters like the Gingerbread Man and an ambulatory Christmas tree with wrapped gift boxes for feet. (A special thank-you to whoever designed that delightful tree, which we think should have its own dance party, except for the fact it must be difficult to dance with boxes for feet.)
All of Town Hall Park was turned into a holiday fest, with music and twinkling lights providing a magical background.
Providing entertainment at the pre-lighting concert were: the Franklin School Chorus, under the direction of Denise Mitchell; the Washington School Dream Team, directed by Scott Burzynski; the West Hudson Arts & Theater Co. (W.H.A.T.) Youth Theater Troupe; the W.H.A.T. Victorian Carolers; the local rock band Stonehenge, and members of Teen Drama. (Apologies if we missed anyone. Blame your reporter, not the KUEZ.)
In the park, there were ames tents, a magic show, balloon-making, face-painting, a chance to create some magical reindeer food, photo ops and various displays sponsored by local businesses and civic groups.
These included including the Junior Woman’s Club of Arlington, that club’s Juniorettes, W.H.A.T., Friends of the Kearny Public Library, Midtown Drugs and Holsman Physical Therapy & Rehabilitation.
Supporting the festival with donations were Applebee’s and, from South Kearny, River Terminal Development and Professional Environmental Systems. (Re: any entity not named: Please see apology two paragraphs above.)
Special thank-yous also go out to the Kearny Police and Fire Departments and EMS, none of which was needed that night in an emergency capacity, but whose mere presence added to the delight of the kids. Especially those who got personal fire helmets.
Although the festival tents are down now, the glowing tree stands tall in front of Town Hall. And to think that a couple of years ago, Kearny almost lost this bit of holiday beauty. The one you see now was planted after the original fir that long marked the site was split by lighting. Santos noted that the current tree is “celebrating its second anniversary.”
Events like the Kearny festival are about celebrating a sense of community and creating joyful memories – and this one succeeded on both levels. We can’t help but think that, for years to come, whenever some of the youngsters think back to their favorite holiday memories, these will include the night they danced on stage to “Jingle Bell Rock” with Frosty the Snowman as their partner.
We began this story by talking about holiday warmth, and we must report that it was magical, too. We were outdoors for a couple of hours, and it was only when we left the festival that we realized our feet were frozen. Next year, we plan to wear gift boxes instead of boots.