Going places: Holiday happenings in our own backyard

Karen Rubin
Encountering Father Christmas himself, during the Candlelight Evenings at Old Bethpage Village Restoration © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

By Karen Rubin, Travel Features Syndicate, goingplacesfarandnear.com

The most wonderful thing about the candlelight evenings at Old Bethpage Village Restoration on Long Island, is yes, the sense of stepping back into time, into an idyllic peacefulness such as finding yourself in a Christmas card – it’s like a sugar rush of nostalgia. But what I love best are the serendipitous moments when you engage the reenactors in conversation- the questions that arise just because you are immersed in that experience.

This year, Candlelight Evenings are being offered Dec. 17-21 and Dec. 26-29.

When you leave the visitor center and electric lights, you feel you have literally traveled through a time portal. Within a few steps, you are transported back to the 19th century – an illusion that is made to feel so real because of the hosts in period dress, who demonstrate and discuss their holiday traditions. There is fiddle music in the 150-year old Manhasset School House; a bonfire, purchase hot cider at the Noon Inn, candy at the Layton House General Store (one year I met Santa in the parlor). Sit in the Manetto Hill Church for Christmas carols.

I usually save the Schenck House, a Dutch home that dates from 1765, for last because each year it seems, I come upon the most unexpected encounters and find it the most illuminating. Instead of interpreting the holiday traditions of the mid 1800s, the Huntington Militia re-create a Colonial Christmas in the 18th century. Here, our presenters speak in the style of the time, and celebrate Christmas of 1775. One year, I engaged in a long discussion of how the Patriots were treating the Loyalists (not well – North Hempstead, home of Patriots, split from Loyalist Hempstead over the rift).

Candlelight Evenings are open from 5- 9:30 pm (last admittance at 8 pm ). Online prices are $19/Adults, $14/ Seniors and Children (5-12 years old). Active-duty service members attend free.

Old Bethpage Village Restoration, 1303 Round Swamp Road, Old Bethpage, NY 11804, oldbethpagevillagerestoration@nassaucountyny.gov, 516-572-8409.

New Event: ‘Shimmering Solstice’ at Old Westbury Gardens

This year, Long Islanders have a new holiday happening to enjoy: an outdoor walk-through light show, “Shimmering Solstice,” at Old Westbury Gardens, presented by Catholic Health. You behold a series of light displays as you walk along the beautiful meandering paths through Old Westbury Gardens’ Walled Garden, Rose Garden, South Lawn and Allée.

The event opened November 20, 2021 and runs through January 9, 2022. Admission starts at 5:30 p.m. and the last admission is at 9:30 p.m. The gates close at 11 p.m.

Shimmering Solstice is a custom-built show specially designed to highlight the features of Old Westbury Gardens. The design phase took approximately a-year-and-a-half to plan.

“This is a celebration of our space,” said Maura McGoldrick-Brush, Director of Horticulture at Old Westbury Gardens. “Instead of flowers, the gardens will be blooming with light. This is truly an enchanting combination of the beauty of the gardens and the magic of the season.”

Old Westbury Gardens worked with Lightswitch, a collective of internationally recognized lighting, media, and visual designers to create the show with the intent of celebrating the Gardens’ history and environment during the fall and winter seasons.

Some of the sights you see include both the formal Rose Garden and Walled Garden blooming with light and twinkling in lively rhythmic patterns; enormous dandelions lining the pond and a giant Christmas tree made of lit globes displayed in front of Westbury House. Other impressive light displays are throughout the iconic garden areas for visitors to discover.

The walk-through portion of the show is designed for visitors to explore at their own pace. For the exciting finale, visitors will be dazzled to see the south facade of Westbury House come alive in a magical and wondrous sensation of lights and sounds, celebrating the spirit of the season.

Built in 1906 and listed on the National Register of Historic Places, Old Westbury Gardens is the former home of John S. Phipps, his wife, Margarita Grace Phipps, and their children. Old Westbury Gardens seeks to inspire appreciation of the early 20th century American country estate through faithful preservation and interpretation of its landscape, gardens, architecture and collections. For more information, visit https://www.oldwestburygardens.org/

For more information on Shimmering Solstice, visit https://shimmeringsolstice.com/

Times Square New Year’s Eve Celebration is Back!

The highly anticipated December 31 Times Square New Year’s Eve celebration is inviting revelers back to Times Square to safely watch the Ball Drop in person with proof of full vaccination and valid photo identification.

Organized by The Times Square Alliance and Countdown Entertainment, the festivities will also be broadcast for television and internet audiences, and will include a virtual multi-media experience.

“This year, we are ready and thrilled to welcome a full house of revelers back to Times Square to celebrate the New Year,” said Tom Harris, President, Times Square Alliance. “Now more than ever we need to come together to revive our favorite traditions with our loved ones – reflecting on a tough year behind us while looking forward to a new year with hope.”

All in-person revelers are required to be vaccinated. Attendees who are age 5 or over must present proof of COVID-19 vaccination to enter the event. Proof of vaccination must include an FDA or WHO approved COVID-19 vaccine (Pfizer, Moderna, Johnson & Johnson, AstraZeneca/Oxford, Sinopharm or Sinovac). Unvaccinated minors under the age of 5 must be accompanied by a vaccinated adult to enter the event and wear face coverings.

Persons who are unable to get vaccinated because of a disability will be required to present proof of a negative COVID PCR test taken within 72 hours prior to the event and if medically able to tolerate a face-covering, wear a mask for the entire duration of the event.

A Times Square New Year’s Eve commercial-free webcast will cover the action and festivities in Times Square, beginning with the Ball Raising at 6 p.m. EST, plus live musical performances, hourly countdowns, behind-the-scenes stories, and star-studded interviews as anticipation builds towards the midnight countdown and the famous Ball Drop. The webcast will be streamed live on multiple websites, including TimesSquareNYC.org, NewYearsEve.nyc, LiveStream.com/2022 and TimesSquareBall.net. Embedding codes and additional webcast info is available at: https://www.timessquarenyc.org/times-square-new-years-eve/nye-live-webcast or LiveStream.com/2022.

Additionally, Jamestown, the owner of One Times Square (home of the iconic New Year’s Eve Ball Drop Celebration) will bring back its virtual New Year’s Eve experience with the VNYE app. Through the VNYE app, people from across the globe can explore the virtual world of Times Square, play games, and livestream New Year’s Eve celebrations in Times Square and around the world. Broadcast networks also will be airing elements of the Times Square celebration.

Revelers began celebrating New Year’s Eve in Times Square as early as 1904, but it was in 1907 that the New Year’s Eve Ball made its maiden descent from the flagpole atop One Times Square. Seven versions of the Ball have been designed to signal the New Year.

New York in 1904 was a city on the verge of tremendous changes – and, not surprisingly, many of those changes had their genesis in the bustling energy and thronged streets of Times Square. Two innovations that would completely transform the Crossroads of the World debuted in 1904: the opening of the city’s first subway line and the first-ever celebration of New Year’s Eve in Times Square.

This inaugural bash commemorated the official opening of the new headquarters of The New York Times, at the time, Manhattan’s second tallest building. The newspaper’s owner, German Jewish immigrant Adolph Ochs, spared no expense to ensure a party for the ages. The night was such a rousing success that Times Square instantly replaced Lower Manhattan’s Trinity Church as “the” place in New York City to ring in the New Year. Before long, this party of parties would capture the imagination of the nation, and the world.

When two years later, the city banned the fireworks display Ochs arranged to have a large, illuminated seven-hundred-pound iron and wood ball lowered from the tower flagpole precisely at midnight to signal the end of 1907 and the beginning of 1908.

On that occasion, and for almost a century thereafter, Times Square sign maker Artkraft Strauss was responsible for the ball-lowering. In 1914, The New York Times outgrew Times Tower and relocated to 229 West 43rd Street. By then, New Year’s Eve in Times Square was already a permanent part of our cultural fabric.

The Ball has been lowered every year since 1907, with the exceptions of 1942 and 1943, when the ceremony was suspended due to the wartime “dimout” of lights in New York City. Nevertheless, the crowds still gathered in Times Square in those years and greeted the New Year with a minute of silence followed by the ringing of chimes from sound trucks parked at the base of the tower—a harkening-back to the earlier celebrations at Trinity Church, where crowds would gather to “ring out the old, ring in the new.”

The Ball is a geodesic sphere, 12 feet in diameter, and weighs 11,875 pounds, covered with a total of 2,688 Waterford Crystal triangles of varying sizes, and illuminated by 32,256 LEDs (light emitting diodes). For Times Square 2022, 192 Waterford Crystal triangles introduce the new Gift of Wisdom design represented by a central wheel with wedge cut petals of knowledge growing ever forward.

Today, New Year’s Eve in Times Square is a bona fide international phenomenon. Each year, hundreds of thousands of people still gather around the Tower, now known as One Times Square, and wait for hours in the cold of a New York winter for the famous Ball-lowering ceremony. Seeing it live is an experience that should be had once in a lifetime.

Thanks to satellite technology, a worldwide audience estimated at over one billion people watch the ceremony each year. The lowering of the Ball has become the world’s symbolic welcome to the New Year.

More information at TimesSquareNYC.org and TimesSquareBall.net.

New Year’s Eve Concert for Peace

For several years, I have celebrated New Year’s Eve at the Cathedral of St. John the Divine for its annual “Concert for Peace” (a tradition started by Leonard Bernstein in 1986) that takes place from 7-8:30 pm. (I still have time to walk back down to Penn Station to get a sense of the city’s revelry and still get back in time to watch the ball drop at Times Square).

The inspiring concert features Cathedral Choir & Orchestra of St. John the Divine, conducted by Kent Tritle, Bryan Zaros & Jie Yi and Jamet Pittman, soprano. Famed news commentator Harry Smith hosts.

This year, the festive concert kicks off with Handel’s Water Music Suite in D and features Joel Thompson’s riveting Seven Last Words of the Unarmed and David Hurd’s When Night Fell address deep issues of our time. A medley of Asian composers will include Chen Yi, with the Cathedral choir singing in Chinese! Jamet Pittman will lead all in singing “This Little Light of Mine” after J.S. Bach’s timeless setting of Dona Nobis Pacem from his Mass in B Minor.

Tickets start at $40. All attendees and/or ticketholders must be fully vaccinated (received the final dose at least 14 days before the performance date). At check-in, ticketholders will be required to show proof of full vaccination (the NYS Excelsior Pass or a hard copy or photo of the vaccination card and a valid ID).

The Cathedral Church of Saint John the Divine, 1047 Amsterdam Avenue at 112th St., New York, NY 10025, 212-316-7540, info@stjohndivine.org, www.stjohndivine.org.
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