The trees, events and music that unites


Christmas tree in Carl Schurz Park. Photo: Andrew Willard
By Bette Dewing

You who read this column each year about this time know that the trees that unite us, people of all faiths and backgrounds, are the Park Avenue Memorial Trees. Unfortunately, those who don’t read this column or this paper (imagine!) may think these illumined fir trees are just another city Christmas holiday scene. Regrettably, most media overlook this tradition, so it’s not common knowledge that the Park Avenue trees honor all who gave their lives in this nation’s wars – all who made the ultimate sacrifice — all who made the ultimate sacrifice.

And oh so memorable is how this magnificent tradition so poignantly began at the end of World War II in 1945. This was when Mrs. Stephen C. Clark and several other mothers of fallen soldiers channeled their grief into planting several Park Avenue islands with illumined fir trees. This serenely beautiful December visual was meant to honor their cherished sons and all others who perished fighting this nation’s wars - the countless others, and still counting. How long, dear Lord, how long?

Now these memorial trees bless Park Avenue from 54th to 97th Street, and in the early ‘80s, Hawthorne and cherry trees were added to celebrate Chanukah. The Fund for Park Avenue, which produces and underwrites the Memorial Trees, importantly notes how “the memorial has expanded to involve and include all faiths, and to further the crusade of peace and invoking reverence for those who have sacrificed their lives.”

For the future, the tree lighting ceremony in front of Brick Church is always held on the first Sunday in December, beginning at 6 p.m. As for reverence in general, we who recall when society was rarely irreverent feel societal reverence needs a mighty revival to further that “crusade of peace.”

Singing together also furthers that cause, and surely happens at the memorial tree lighting ceremony led by Brick Church’s choir director. The Carl Schurz Park tree lighting event was also held on that first December Sunday, and its conservancy notes that “what began as a handful of intrepid carolers, is now an event worthy of being featured in Betsy Pinover Schiff’s new book, “Tis the Season New York.” But some of us sigh; it was a more neighbor-uniting event when there were “just a handful of intrepid carolers.” Phone numbers were often exchanged to work together on neighborhood needs, and to just be neighborly.

And another seasonal caroling event familiar to me will occur on Dec. 11 at 6 p.m. when the East Sixties Neighborhood Association hosts their annual Holiday Sing on the corner of 67th Street and First Avenue. Ah, and here’s to all the carolers joining the association’s year-round endeavors, especially supporting and saving neighborhood stores that meet every day needs and truly unite us.

And of course, experience the Park Avenue Memorial Trees after sundown and maybe sing some Chanukah, Christmas, peace-on-earth, joy-to-the-world and yes, save-the-nabes songs. And the able-bodied will enable those who are not to share in this reverent and uniting walk. Of course, helping one another must be a year-round, New York state of mind. And isn’t that what these holy days/holidays are so much about?

And in the interest of peaceable city streets — that means safe ones — do attend the East 79th Street Neighborhood Association meeting on Dec. 13 at 6 p.m. to remind government officials that their first duty is to ensure public welfare, which is now being threatened by the invasion of the e-bikes, e-motorcycles and yes, e-scooters. Help! Threatening, too, is the fare hike for public transit, the safest and most democratic city transit mode.

Temple Shaaray Tefila, the meeting place for the Dec. 13 neighborhood association meeting, is located on the corner of 79th Street and Second Avenue. Indeed, all concerned New Yorkers should be there and/or contact their elected officials. Say something – do something. Extra special Chanukah blessings to those who do.