Wearing an elf hat, reindeer antlers, and a jolly smile on his face, Mayor Richard Turner hit the switch on the town’s Christmas tree and display last Sunday, and just like that, the Christmas season arrived in Weehawken.
Around 200 of the township’s residents turned out on the warmer than average evening to help ring in the season with performances by the Roosevelt School’s fifth and sixth grade choir and Weehawken High School (WHS) choir.
Under the direction of Donna Hochhauser, who is currently in her first year working in the Weehawken school system, the Roosevelt students performed a medley entitled “Sleigh Ride,” which included the popular favorites “Jingle Bell Rock” and “Christmas Time is Here.”
Following their performance, longtime WHS music director Alice Aiello led her students through a slightly more serious, and multilingual, repertoire. Their version of “O Come, All Ye Faithful” included a verse in Latin, and they infused a Spanish verse into “Silent Night.” The choir closed with a rousing interpretation of “Carol of the Bells.”
“We really do just love Christmas that much.” – Tony Hokayem
Mayor Turner took a few moments before the ceremony to thank the township’s Department of Public Works for their efforts to help residents since Hurricane Sandy, as well as their hard work preparing for the evening’s festivities.
The brightest house on the block
Less than a mile away from Town Hall, at 32 El Dorado Place, the Hokayem-Franzone family was diligently getting work on a favorite holiday tradition, adorning the house with around 20,000 Christmas lights and just about every other decoration imaginable.
The family, which has lived there for around 30 years, has been decorating the exterior and interior of their house for nearly two decades, and by all accounts it’s become an institution of Weehawken’s holiday season.
“I remember in 2008, when the economy was really bad, we waited until a bit later than we usually do to start decorating,” said Eddie Hokayem, who lives with his brother Tony, his mother, and his sister. “People were very concerned. So many of them came over and asked whether we were decorating or not.”
Luckily, they were, and now they always make sure that decorating begins promptly on the first of November, so as not to cause any concerns in the neighborhood.
The outside of the house, aside from the thousands of lights, is decorated with a manger, Santa’s sleigh, multiple Christmas trees, and two lifesize nutcrackers which guard each side of the family’s front door.
Inside, the festive feeling is even more pronounced. Garlands line every bannister and fireplace, and two trees are decorated more perfectly than Hollywood’s best efforts could accomplish. Nutcrackers and Christmas characters are around every turn, and there is a special display of the White House’s yearly ornaments dating back about a decade.
“We really do just love Christmas that much,” said Tony. “It’s a special time of year, and the neighborhood loves what we do. We wish they would get inspired and decorate their own houses, but maybe we just use all the electricity.”
Tony and Eddie’s sister, Philo, lives upstairs with her husband, also named Tony.
One house down the block, 40 El Dorado Place, is also decorated fantastically. Eddie said that the owner of the house, local police officer Neil DeCosmis, is a good friend but a decorating rival.
“It’s all very fun, though,” he said. “I wish more houses would decorate.”
Unfortunately, the family will not be celebrating in Weehawken this year, as another of their sisters, who lives in Canada, is sick and unable to travel. So instead, the Hokayems and Franzones will make the trek north. They will miss their decorations on the big day, but Christmas is about more than the decor, said Franzone.
“It’s all about family.” he said. “None of this means anything if we’re not all together.”
Dean DeChiaro may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org