A reader writes how a financial advisory radio talk show host tells a caller making her first December trip to New York, “Of course, you won’t miss Radio City Music Hall and the Rockefeller Center Christmas Tree.” But he fails to mention The Park Avenue Memorial Trees, truly the most meaningful and inclusive of the city’s December traditions.
So that’s what this column is about, but first, something I discovered about that radio show, the advice is all about what the citizenry must do, not what the government - Medicare - should do, like covering senior dental care and hearing aids, for example. A balance is so needed, as is financial planning, too often neglected – and too often at this time of year.
But this is about The Park Avenue Memorial Trees, whose meaning must become at least as widely known as the Rockefeller Center tree and the Rockettes I hope you will share how, in 1945, several Park Avenue mothers planted several blocks with lighted fir trees to honor their beloved sons who perished in World War II, and all who make that ultimate sacrifice.
And now the lighted trees extend from 54th to 97th Street, from the first December Sunday to Martin Luther King’s birthday. The tree lighting ceremony is held outside Brick Presbyterian Church, again always the first December Sunday at 6 pm. And despite the lack of publicity, hundreds attend, many families with children.
A Special Memory
In 2016. the lighting ceremony happened on my birthday, and not long after a hospital stay, and a Lenox Hill Neighborhood House volunteer enabled my being there that year. And how we need to hear more about volunteering in general, and not only on holday times.
And while I’ve thankfully been back since, the welcoming 2016 words from then pastor Michael Lindvall so need to be heard again and again. “We gather together as a wonderful mix of God’s children, Christians, Jews, Muslims, those who believe and those who struggle with belief, and those who cannot believe. Whatever distinction, do know you are welcome – all are welcome.” And he recalled how this tradition began to honor all the men and women who gave their lives in this nation’s wars, which so tragically continue.
“Now these lights also celebrate the great city of New York and its neighborhoods- our will to become a community in the anonymity of our huge city. Our gathering here defies all the forces of darkness which would work to divide (and I thought of community lost as small businesses, which meet everyday needs, and rental homes, are replaced by giant luxury condos and office towers.) And how countless more must actively defy this legal urban darkness.
A Tradition for All
Lindvall recalled how appropriate that year it was also the first night of Hanukkah and the Festival of Lights and all they stood for. Lighted Hawthorne bushes are always part of this December tradition display.
Of course, he thanked all those made these lighted trees possible, above all Barbara McLaughlin and the Fund for Park Avenue. So do we all!
The best part for many was the joyful carol singing led by Keith Toth, Brick’s Minister of Music. And how we need sing-alongs all year- peace and good will songs – perhaps especially that unite generations.
Taps played by trumpeter Thomas Hoyt, brought us back to the true meaning of these memorial trees. And the minister’s closing prayer, “God of all people, shine your light into the world’s darkness as we dedicate these trees to those who died for freedom and peace, give us courage to live for peace and freedom...May your light be again born in us and hearts gone cold and illuminating moral indignation gone dim. May all the world leaders at last beat all the spears into pruning hooks and swords into plowshares”. Amen and Amen!
Peace and Good Will in Our Time
Again, a message never more needed, nationwide, of course with a leader surely not known for beating those swords into plowshares, and who also may be impeached. But let that not deter our moral indignation against the destruction of affordable neighborhood places and homes.
And do walk along Park Avenue after sundown – with the able-bodied helping those who are not – to experience the city’s most meaningful December tradition, And above all,remember the need to work for peace and good will in our time. It can be done if enough of us try. It must be done.