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Category: Opinion

Thoughts & Views: Have yourself a merry Little Christmas



On Monday, the N.Y.C. Sanitation Department began its annual curbside pickups of discarded Christmas trees.

Monday! Less than a week after Christmas Day. Who gets rid of their tree that fast?

Obviously, a lot of people. But then, in recent years, some folks appear to be putting up their trees around Halloween, so by Dec. 31, the things are nothing but dead stalks holding brown needles.

For shame. This is what has happened because the holiday has become so commercialized that some stores start selling Christmas cards in August. (I will not name the stores; they deserve no free advertising.) The first time I saw this, I complained to the store manager, who explained he had no control over the premature promotion; it had been ordered by “corporate.”

Whatever happened to the 12 Days of Christmas? And I am not talking about partridges in pear trees.

In olden days, happy golden days of yore, the Christmas season did not start until after Thanksgiving. But it lasted through Jan. 6.

If you count them, the 12 Days of Christmas actually extend from Dec. 25 through only Jan. 5. But the 6th, Epiphany/ Feast of the Magi, has long been the traditional final day of Christmastide. This was the day that the Three Wise Men finally arrived in Bethlehem, bearing their gifts for the Christ Child. The importance wasn’t the gifts; it was the manifestation to man that this infant was the Son of God. (If I’ve got that wrong, theologians correct me please!)

In any case, the 6th is what we marked as Little Christmas in my home, a tradition linked to the Ukrainian side of my family. (And, I have just discovered, apparently to the Celtic side, too. Who knew?)

Because my father had long since “converted” to Roman Catholic from Ukrainian Catholic (not to be confused with Ukrainian Orthodox or Russian Orthodox; it all gets very confusing), we had no special Little Christmas celebrations, other than going to church for the Feast of the Epiphany. But the day did mark the official end of the Yuletide season. And it was on Jan. 6 that our Christmas tree and other decorations came down. Never a day before. From the scattershot research I have done on (pass the salt grains please)

Wikipedia, Little Christmas appears to date to the Julian Calendar, which was succeeded by the current Gregorian Calendar, which marked Christmas as Dec. 25. However, also according to Wikipedia, even before the Gregorian Calendar was adopted, western churches had begun celebrating Christmas on Dec. 25. Wikipedia also reports that Little Christmas is traditional in Ireland (Jan. 6) and the Scottish Highlands (Jan. 1). I had never heard of that before. I’d be happy to have that confirmed by any of you Irish or Scottish readers out there.

In the west, Jan. 6 is also known as Three Kings Day, cause for particular celebration in Hispanic communities. And just as children put out milk and cookies for Santa on Christmas Eve, some Spanish youngsters reportedly put out boxes of grass for the camels of the Magi on the eve of Jan. 6. I had never heard of that before, either, but it is very sweet.

Whatever its origin, Little Christmas is still a tradition in many families, mine included. (The reindeer antlers and red Rudolph nose decorating my car will remain until the 6th, by the way.)

If you have never marked the date before, may I suggest you start, if for no other reason than because it extends the season of peace and joy. For more practical purposes, it gives you an excuse to delay the ornery task of removing the lights on your roof and deflating the giant snowman on your lawn. But, please, try to get them down sometime before Easter.

– Karen Zautyk


In The Observer’s issue of Dec. 11, 2013, a press release for Roosevelt School academic honors misspelled a student’s name. Here’s the corrected entry: Honors: 4th Grade, Ava Lynch.

Thoughts & Views: A full flagon of forecasts for 2014



With 2014 just around the corner, it’s time to make New Year’s predictions for the world, and resolutions for the soul. So, without further ado, here are a few forecasts I’d like to throw into the mix:

• Ordinary but sensible civilians from countries around the globe, calling themselves, GASP [Growing Awareness for Sane Policy] descend on Damascus and demand that the Assad regime and all feuding ethnic and religious factions throw down their weapons [including chemical, of course], kick out all foreign interventionists, invite back all displaced Syrian refugees, and start working together to rebuild the country. Everyone listens for a change and peace is declared.

GASP (not a real name) informs both houses of Congress that Party Time – Dems, GOP, and Tea – is over, debate is closed, filibusters are out and the new Era for Cooperation is in. Members will be locked behind the doors of their respective assembly places until they agree to balance the budget, reduce the national debt and ban fracking.

• GASP summons the ghost of Charlton Heston to haunt NRA President James Porter to show him that the business of personal liberty has nothing to do with shooting and everything to do with sharing … life … not guns.

• GASP listens in on the secret conversations of the NSA, records them, sends out postings with the contents of those recordings to all world leaders, just to show that Edward Snowden isn’t the only one who can leak info. Please like us. No warrants needed.

• The national Healthcare Insurance Exchanges computer software is downloaded by Google, Facebook and Twitter so they can properly market consumers lifetime supplies of thermometers, blood sugar meters and enema bags.

• Global climate naysayers’ oceanfront summer homes are engulfed by tsunamis that wash away entire continents. How many times can you say, “Got flood insurance?”

* Super Bowl 48 is played in MetLife Stadium before 80,000 empty seats as Homeland Security personnel forbid fans to enter, citing tailgating threats. Fans go home and watch great TV commercials.

* Gov. Chris Christie begins his 2016 campaign for the White House by signing legislation calling for N.J. to secede from the U.S. The governor immediately begins setting up traffic cones and barricades blocking vehicular access in and out of the Garden State and orders Shore Patrol to curtail access to beaches by Empire State bennies.

• The airlines industry begins offering a “way low” economy fare, allowing little ones up to age 4 to ride free as “carry ons” stowed in newly designed overhead compartments equipped with breathing and feeding holes. One caveat: if persistent crying is heard from overheads, passengers will be assessed a penalty fee. No emotional baggage tolerated.

• The National Railway Institute asks the Lionel Model Train Co. to come up with suggestions for controlling the speed of trains at sharp curves in the track. Okay, now for some New Year’s resolutions:

1. I resolve not to do any more New Year’s predictions.

2. Repeat the above each new year.

Thank you, one and all, for putting up with my eccentricities, expressed in print, for the past 12 months and I’d like to wish you all out there in Observer land the very best 2014 that you can make


Sal Padovano and Dr. Mark Zucker at this year’s Heart and Sole walk early October, four months after the transplant.

Sal Padovano and Dr. Mark Zucker at this year’s Heart and Sole walk early October, four months after the transplant.


To the editor:

On June 20 of this year, Sal Padovano of Harrison finally received his new heart. Padovano had been on the transplant list for nine months and battled insurance companies for six months prior. On June 4, Padovano was hospitalized for congestive heart failure and was due to stay in the hospital until or if even the new heart had arrived. We know very little about the donor, just that he was a 53-year-old male and our now angel. There are so many people the Padavano family would like to thank for their help, donations, fundraisers, thoughts and generosity towards their family after an article in The Star Ledger explained Padavano was ineligible for a transplant because he only had one insurance that picked up only 80% of the coverage.

The family never ever could or would have imagined all these people who had interest in our story and helping: Jerry (Spanish Pavilion), Sal (Nino’s Pizzeria), Skip Starr (Riley’s Pub), Alex Delgado and Samantha Cimpric (Kilkenny’s Pub), Mike Warum, Laura Correnti, Matt Ravo, Juan (Juanqui) Barroso, Dyane Marchitto, Carpenter’s Local 15, Mayor McDonough, Harrison PBA, Senator Menendez, Debbie, East Newark Police and Fire Department, Green Room, Kearny Reunion Committee, Marlene (J.D. Photography), Larry Bennett, Larry Kelly, Bob Polding and band, all of New Beginnings and class 5, Camp Fatima of N.J., Harrison EMT’s for their great work, Father Joe from Holy Cross Church, the entire staff at Newark Beth Israel Medical Center, numerous individuals from near and far and, of course, all family and friends who were there for support throughout the entire process. We love you all so much. We are so touched. It will forever be remembered and you all will always have a place in our hearts.

Padovano is doing great and continues to progress each day doing things he hasn’t been able to do in years like bowl once a week with his family, taking his grandson pumpkin picking this past Halloween and something as little as walk from the door to the car without having to stop or lose his breath.

Nearly $15,000 was raised.

Sal Padovano & Family, Donna, Amy, Bryan, Jillian and Jayden, Harrison

Thoughts & Views: Making a list, checking it twice



Now that the holiday shopping season is in full ferocity, we have been learning about all those “must-have” things we never knew we needed.

They begin appearing in commercials and on store shelves in November and then magically disappear in January, sometimes never to be seen or heard of again.

Occasionally, one has a longer shelf life. Such as the Snuggie, the blanket with sleeves, which has been around for a few years now, though I have yet to see a single ad for it this year. Maybe I’ve just been lucky.

I admit it. I often fall victim to the hype. Last year, I bought a pair of microwavable slippers.

This year, I have already invested in Cat’s Meow. (“Peeka- boo wand mimics a scurrying mouse.” “Hours of fun!”)

It will be under the tree for the felines, but somehow I think it will keep me more entertained than it will them.

There are certain things I will never buy. Such as the Essential Doomsday Survival Kit. This includes – among many, many other things — a portable stove, an emergency food supply (enough for one person for two weeks or two people for one week, and then I guess you have to start shooting squirrels), sleeping bag, flashlight, bandages, a deck of cards. (If you’re the last person left alive, there’s always Solitaire.) This is only a partial list.

The kit, originally priced at $1,199.99, has been marked down to $199.99. Which leaves me wondering if these kits are not left over from December 2012, when the Mayan Doomsday failed to materialize.

I will also not invest money in the Touch-Free Soap Dispenser. The need for which I cannot comprehend. Supposedly, it keeps your hands from getting all germy. But, think about it. After you touch a normal soap dispenser, you WASH your hands, right? You do not then reach over and touch the dispenser again, right? So what’s point? Unless you suffer from OCD.

(The touch-free soap dispenser reminds me of the washing-machine cleanser some detergent company has been touting. A WASHING machine gets WASHED every time you use it. Why would it need to be washed again separately?)

Also new on the shelves this year is Perfect Polly.

“Lifelike Bird Gives the Joy of a Pet Without the Work!”

This is a bargain at $10. Motion-activated it “comes to life whenever you walk in the room!” Its head turns, its feathers fluff, and it chirps. “And unlike real birds, you can turn Perfect Polly off with just the touch of a button.”

(Thanks for clarifying the lack of buttons on real birds.)

Also: “This life-sized bird features details so realistic, only you will know it’s not real!” Really? I am tempted to get one just because it is cute, but I fear it could be hazardous to my live pets. If I brought a Perfect Polly into my home, the cats would die laughing.

And Santa as already been notified that if a Justin Bieber Singing Toothbrush is in my holiday stocking, there will be no more milk and cookies. Ever.

However, this year also has brought a product without which I cannot do. I have already requested this from more than one person, because I would like a menagerie. I am talking about the Stuffie.

This is a large, plush animal designed for children, but it is more than a toy. It has numerous secret pockets designed to hold kiddies’ treasures. In my case, the Stuffie will hold clutter.

Visitors are coming and you have no time to clean up?

Just grab a Stuffie and pack it with debris. Most of my clutter is paper, so Stuffies are perfect. One for newspaper clippings, one for half-used notebooks, one for scraps of paper with phone numbers and other important info.

(Flashback to “All the President’s Men”: Bernstein, just back from an interview, is emptying his pockets of paper napkins, old receipts, other scraps. Woodward: “Where are your notes?” Bernstein: “These ARE my notes!”)

I am hoping one of the Stuffies I get will be a bird. That one will be for bills.

–Karen Zautyk



To the editor:

The Woman’s Club of Lyndhurst would like to extend our heartfelt thanks to the following pizzerias for their participation in our recent pizza tasting contest fundraiser.

The event took place on Monday, Dec. 9. One-hundred- fifty people attended our pizza tasting contest. Four pizzerias donated 10 pies each. Everyone received a ballot and a slice of pie from each pizzeria. No one knew who made what pie. The pies were numbers 1, 2, 3 and 4. The participating pizzerias were Francesca’s, 119 Valleybrook Ave.; Lyndhurst Pizzeria, 29 Ridge Rd.; Pizza Lino, 139 Ridge Rd. and Turano’s Pizzeria, 609 Stuyvesant Ave.

The results are in and the winner of the best tasting pizza in Lyndhurst for 2014 is Lyndhurst Pizzeria.

They will be presented with a banner claiming their victory for 2014, which will be displayed in their storefront window.

We sincerely want to thank all the stores that donated and urge townspeople to patronize these generous establishments to show gratitude for taking part in a community organization to raise funds for our charitable organizations.

Thank you also to everyone who purchased a ticket to attend.

The Woman’s Club of Lyndhurst

Thoughts & Views: The world mourns the passing of Mandela



The world experienced a great loss Dec. 5 with the death, at age 95, of Nelson Mandela, the man credited with ending apartheid in his native South Africa.

Despite being imprisoned by his white oppressors for 27 years, when he was freed in Feb. 1990, at 71, Mandela worked to establish a new government based on “reconciliation,” rather than retaliation.

Initially, he was met with resistance from his fellow South Africans, both whites and blacks, but in the end he got what he wanted: a coalition government that would respect all colors.

Mandela’s struggles – in the face of seemingly overwhelming odds – should remind us of at least two other statesmen whose clamoring for justice resounded on the global stage: Ghandi, who fought to end British rule in India through a policy of non-violence; and Lincoln, the “Great Emancipator,” who waged a civil war to preserve the Union in which all citizens were free.

As in Mandela’s case, the goal was achieved but a flawed creation followed. Years of infighting took its toll on South Africans; as a byproduct of independence from Britain, Ghandi had to accept a divided India; Lincoln’s assassination sparked a revenge-minded Radical Republicanism bent on punishing the South for its rebellion.

All three were truly pivotal figures in their lifetime but all were quite mortal, and, therefore, no matter how many statues may be consecrated in their honor, none should be elevated to deity.

To that end, let’s recall the words of University of Cape Town political professor Anthony Butler who wrote in South Africa’s Business Day newspaper (as quoted in the Dec. 7 New York Times), “To idealize a great political leader – to try and take that person out of politics and the humanity out of that person – is in the end a futile or even contradictory endeavor.”

Still, we can say that Mandela, Ghandi and Lincoln each left a great legacy for which we have much to thank them.

Shifting gears: Has a version of the Prince of Denmark crept into North Korea?

News accounts report that before he came to power, Kim Jong-un, that country’s leader, was propped up by his uncle, Jang Song-thaek, and his aunt, Kim Kyong-hee.

But, of late, if these accounts are accurate, following the death of the Kim Jong-il, the current 30-year-old leader’s father, Kim Jong-un (read: Hamlet) has arranged for Uncle Jang to be removed from his government posts and for two of his uncle’s deputies (read: shades of Rosencrantz and Gildenstern) to be killed. Alas, these same accounts say that Uncle Jang (read: Claudius) is estranged from his sickly spouse (read: Gertrude).

Now, Kim Jong-un has been talking about unleashing some of North Korea’s nuclear capability on the country’s traditional eastern and western rivals. (Read: “To take arms against a sea of troubles. And by opposing, end them ….”).

Draw your own conclusions.

Finally, some thoughts on Kevyn Orr, Detroit’s emergency manager, asking the Detroit Art Museum to consider auctioning off some of its collection, including the famous Diego Rivera murals celebrating the workers of the world, to help the bankrupt Motor City pay its creditors.

What a great irony that would be, if art work that exalts the contributions by the American laborer – the same type of work that came very close to being displayed in the iconic capitalist building, Rockefeller Center – were to be sold to prop up the very city that made America Roar in the Twenties.

Rivera and his staff undertook the Detroit museum job in the wake of Ford Motor Co. goons having killed four auto workers and harming 22 during a 1932 demonstration at Ford’s Dearborn plant. The city’s plutocrats warned Edsel Ford – who had given Rivera the commission – he was being undermined by the artist.

But Rivera was allowed to proceed and, despite the Depression, the museum – which was on the ropes – survived and prospered, thanks in large part, to the Rivera murals’ popularity.

Maybe history will repeat itself.

– Ron Leir

Thoughts & Views: Remembering the eulogy to JFK

Our Nov. 20 issue of The Observer noted the 50th anniversary of the assassination of President John Fitzgerald Kennedy, and the rest of that week was filled with television documentaries, panel discussions and replays of actual news coverage from 1963.

I found myself as transfixed as I had been all those years ago — even though things learned in those ensuing decades have diminished my opinion of JFK as a person, if not as a President.

But back then, Jack and Jackie were still the romanticized golden couple, and who am I to judge?

On Nov. 25, as I was watching a replay of the funeral, words I had heard spoken 50 years ago — and never since — suddenly came drifting up, unbidden, from the deepest caverns of memory:

“And so she took a ring from her finger and placed it in his hands.”

I realized immediately it referred to Jacqueline, but who had said it? And in what context?

I found the answers. It was from the eulogy delivered by Senate Majority Leader Mike Mansfield (D-Montana) while JFK’s coffin lay in state under the Capitol Dome, where an estimated 250,000 people came to pay their respects.

I do not know if Mansfield actually witnessed the incident of which he speaks. I have heard different versions of the story. I have also heard that it is apocryphal. But that really doesn’t matter. I like to think it’s true.

Here is the Mansfield eulogy, in its entirety:

“There was a sound of laughter; in a moment, it was no more. And so she took a ring from her finger and placed it in his hands.

“There was a wit in a man neither young nor old, but a wit full of an old man’s wisdom and of a child’s wisdom, and then, in a moment it was no more. And so she took a ring from her finger and placed it in his hands.

“There was a man marked with the scars of his love of country, a body active with the surge of a life far, far from spent and, in a moment, it was no more. And so she took a ring from her finger and placed it in his hands.

“There was a father with a little boy, a little girl and a joy of each in the other. In a moment it was no more, and so she took a ring from her finger and placed it in his hands.

“There was a husband who asked much and gave much, and out of the giving and the asking wove with a woman what could not be broken in life, and in a moment it was no more. And so she took a ring from her finger and placed it in his hands, and kissed him and closed the lid of a coffin. “

A piece of each of us died at that moment. Yet, in death he gave of himself to us. He gave us of a good heart from which the laughter came. He gave us of a profound wit, from which a great leadership emerged. He gave us of a kindness and a strength fused into a human courage to seek peace without fear.

“He gave us of his love that we, too, in turn, might give. He gave that we might give of ourselves, that we might give to one another until there would be no room, no room at all, for the bigotry, the hatred, prejudice, and the arrogance which converged in that moment of horror to strike him down.

“In leaving us — these gifts, John Fitzgerald Kennedy, President of the United States, leaves with us. Will we take them, Mr. President? Will we have, now, the sense and the responsibility and the courage to take them?

“I pray to God that we shall and under God we will.”

That is more than a eulogy. It is poetry.

– Karen Zautyk

Addendum: One more quote to remember in relation to Nov. 22, 1963. “Let justice be done though the heavens fall.” Now that would be a perfect final eulogy.


A Nov. 27 story on the Red Bull Arena in Harrison incorrectly reported that skybox patrons pay extra for alcohol. Alcoholic beverages are included in the skybox fee but club box customers are charged for alcohol, according to Red Bull spokesman Robert Pastor. For more information, call Pastor at 973-268-7128. The Observer regrets the error.

Thoughts & Views: Let’s talk turkey, shall we?

As we prepare to celebrate Thanksgiving on Nov. 28 (and its aftermath of frenzied Friday foraging by the manic masses maneuvering through mammoth malls), let us lift up our weary eyes a moment from our artificially fattened turkeys and ponder this:

We live in the United States of America, a deeply flawed republic, indeed, but also a country where, for the most part, we can reasonably expect to go about our business without being blown up by a suicide bomber, being thrown into jail by agents of a police state, being forced to flee our borders because of civil strife, or being compelled to work in unsafe buildings that could collapse at any time.

But wait:

Aren’t there people wandering around still looking for work, or at least, enough work to pay the basic bills? Absolutely, and I know several on a personal basis and I’m sure you do, as well.

Aren’t there folks being thrown out of homes for lack of money to pay the mortgage or the rent? Yes: just scan the daily papers and read the numerous foreclosure notices.

Aren’t there unfortunates spending every day on the street, panhandling for food? Yes, I see several camped out under the elevated highway near Jersey City’s Charlotte Circle, just to cite one of many examples.

Obviously, the USA isn’t a utopian society and there are those who would argue we are a dystopian, hopelessly fragmented, bigoted, us vs. them lot. Some political scientists, economists and columnists argue the gulf between the classes continues to widen and, as our government continues to print money and defer paying our debt, we will spiral down into the abyss.

I prefer not to join that chorus of doomsayers – at least not yet.

Instead, I’d rather focus on those among us who take the time to care about others less fortunate, without resources to make it through tough times. Organizations like the Salvation Army, the Red Cross and Goodwill Industries; a host of service groups like the Elks, Kiwanis, Rotary, Woman’s Club, Lions, Masons, our veterans’ posts, among others too numerous to mention.

And all the individual acts of kindness, like the recent blood drive sponsored by the Belleville firefighters’ union, held on behalf of a stricken comrade. Or those contributing to a bone marrow drive to aid a Kearny woman’s young grandson in Brooklyn.

Meanwhile, for those of us lucky enough to be able to enjoy the virtues of home and hearth for the holiday with friends and family, we should take time out to give thanks.

I was reminded recently by a Kearny lawyer acquaintance of the importance of family values and I know he’ll forgive me if I quote an excerpt of an e-mail he circulated among his many pals and associates as he marked his birthday:

“Everyone has their problems. People are struggling with issues [and] our family is no exception. Bills come due. Medical complications must be faced. Relationships fall on rocky times. That’s why we should try to be kind all day, every day, to whomever we meet.”

Referencing a family photo with his spouse and daughters, the lawyer observes: “When I look at pictures like this, however, I can put everything [in] perspective. I am among the luckiest guys in the world. …. “

Problems and issues will come, and go, and come back again, and go away again. But, I am surrounded by these ladies. We love each other. This is what is important. And it doesn’t have to be familial. Surround yourself with loving, caring people. Live among friends and neighbors. Help and allow yourself to be helped. That is the essence of being human. ….”

Yes. Those are words to remember on this and future Thanksgivings.

Have a pleasant holiday.

– Ron Leir