Newport has rescheduled its 16th Annual Tree Lighting Ceremony for Monday, Dec. 11 instead, starting at 6 p.m. This tradition brings the community together to pose for photographs with Santa, sing along to carols with the “Definitely Dickens” octet, ride the famous Santa Express train, enjoy winter crafts, sip hot cocoa, and chow down on holiday-themed cookies and sweets.
The event is free and open to the public.
Typically, parents and kids arrive about an hour before the scheduled start, inspired by Christmas music played over speakers and a small trackless train carrying kids spinning around the square, but these are only side attractions to the main act most kids had come to catch.
The Definitely Dickens octet will keep the crowds entertained until the big man in his red suit arrives with Mrs. Claus and their helpful elves.
Mayor Steven Fulop said the Newport celebration has become the traditional kickoff of the holiday season for many in Jersey City. “It is very exciting time of year and Newport has always kicked it off in such a fantastic fashion, making it so that the entire family feels energized,” he said.
Each year, Newport Center decorates the park for the holidays with large gift boxes with bows, and human sized toy soldiers standing guard over the crisscrossing paths. Many kids get the chance to tell Santa what they want as he holds court nearby with the help of a number of elves.
Along with Santa, the carolers and the kiddie train ride, the event features the lighting of the 30-foot high tree and a synchronized light show. Guests are treated to hot cocoa, coffee, and cookies from Jersey City’s Morton Williams supermarket.
For many that attended last year, the winter wonderland landscape and the towering residential and office buildings that line the waterfront were elements of an extremely successful development. Old timers remembered how devastated this landscape was even into the early 1990s.
The LeFrak and Newport families helped create a modern urban landscape out of the ruins of a decaying waterfront and industrial area. With tall buildings towering over the Newport Center park, local officials said this ceremony is part of a two-decades-long effort to rebuild the waterfront.
Newport and the LeFrak families have often been credited as pioneers in helping to redevelop an area that was once in near-complete decay. Fulop praised them for their helping make such celebrations in a newly revived landscape possible. Newport has become defined as a neighborhood in its own right, something that emerged out of the growth of the city’s economic base.
Hudson County singers from St. Joseph’s School for the Blind
While Newport kids might have to wait a whole week for Santa, kids from St. Joseph’s School for the Blind held their annual event in the Brennan Court House on Newark Avenue, and helped flip the switch that lighted the county’s official Christmas Tree on Dec. 6.
As is traditional, the school chorus kicked off the holiday season with a concert at the Hudson County tree lighting ceremony. The annual event is officiated by Hudson County Executive Thomas DeGise. Each year, chorus members are selected to “turn on the switch” and light the 40 ft. tree.
“This is an annual event,” DeGise said. “I’m not sure who enjoys it more, us or the kids. This year there were about 45 of them, and they got a real kick out of being at the court house and it was a wonderful moment for us.”
A ritual, the kids got to take a picture with the county executive, and everybody got to enjoy cookies and beverages as well as the songs.
“The kids were in particularly good voice this year,” DeGise said.
While DeGise isn’t quite Santa Claus, he did provide the kids with their moment in the limelight, one getting the privilege to actually flip the switch, while others got to perform.
“The people at St. Joseph’s said they practiced for weeks,” DeGise said. “They were unbelievably excited.”
While the county provides handicap access to the historic court house, the kids apparently abandoned the ramps in their excitement to get into the building.
“For us and them, it was a special moment,” DeGise said. “Over the year, some of us get hardened. But this was a tearful moment for all of us.”
DeGise said the school has over 60 kids in the school, 11 of whom are from Jersey City, most of the rest come from other towns in Hudson County.
“I remember when I was an altar boy as a kid, we used to volunteer to go keep the kids company when the school was located on Pavonia Avenue. This is one of those places that is good for Jersey City and good for Hudson County.”
Al Sullivan may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.