The Gotham Beat: Sleigh Bells Ring; Are You Listening?

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There is nothing like Christmas in New York City. Every street in Midtown fills with happy parents dragging wide-eyed children in mittens past windows full of glittering lights and animatronics. The stores of Fifth and Madison Avenues drape their facades with LED snowflakes, and giant red ornaments rest in the shadow of the majestic Rockefeller Center tree.

For about a month every year, the holiday spirit grips the city with nostalgia and glee. In fact, the poem ‘Twas the Night Before Christmas was written about a sleigh ride down a Manhattan street in the late nineteenth century.

And the snow! When it snows in Manhattan in December, it’s impossible to believe Irving Berlin was talking about any other city in the world. It may well be a White Christmas, but it’s absolutely dripping in green. Money, that is. Strip away the tinsel and the cheer, and Christmas in New York becomes one huge billboard that screams, “We All Have So Much Money.”

Consider that it costs $30 for one person to ice skate for less than an hour at Rockefeller Center. Tickets to the Radio City Music Hall Christmas Spectacular sell for as much as $250 each, and that giant Christmas tree is topped with a star made of 25,000 Swarovski crystals.

This city is a beautiful, albeit expensive, place to be at Christmas, and most of us, tourists and locals alike, walk down those blocks with our heads tilted back, staring starry-eyed at the wonderland of decorations. There’s even the delightful sound of jingling sleigh bells coming from each street corner that only adds to the holiday ambiance.

But I think too few of us stop to acknowledge those bells, and the people ringing them. You know who I mean – the volunteers in Santa hats ringing their bells for the Salvation Army. They’re collecting money in their little red buckets, and too many of us avert our eyes and walk right by. Maybe we just really don’t have any change to spare. But maybe that’s not it. Maybe we don’t want to think about the other side of Christmas in New York. We don’t want to think about where that red-bucket-money is going.

It’s going to parents who live paycheck to paycheck, on a budget that simply doesn’t allow toy shopping. The “Christmas Cheer” program provides toys to children whose families cannot afford them. And this year, donations are reportedly at an all-time low.
This can’t happen. Think about when we were kids. What was it about Christmas that kept us awake at night, near trembling with anticipation? What made it magic?

It wasn’t the lights, or the trees, or the carols on the radio. It wasn’t Black Friday shopping or Swarovski anything.  It was so much simpler than all of that.

At Christmas, people are nice to each other. That’s it.

We have to remember that time when we were so excited to make glitter-coated pinecone snowman ornaments for our moms. Not because it was a fancy, expensive gift, but because it would make her happy. And at Christmas, everyone should be happy, whether or not they can afford a Christmas tree.

There are a thousand ways to give in New York. I Googled “New York Christmas Charities” and came up with page after page of organizations trying to make this year a Christmas to remember for the less fortunate of
New York. There are groups that collect coats for the homeless. You can volunteer to deliver holiday meals, play bingo with lonely senior citizens, or even just wrap presents.

There are boxes all over campus with a picture of “Hooper” the dog on them.
All you have to do is put a toy in the box, and a kid in New York will have something to unwrap on Christmas morning. It couldn’t be easier.

In short, you should get on the train, and go to Times Square. Walk around. Watch the lights. See the tree. Take in this incredible display of opulence in the city that inspired the timeless Christmas classics. Enjoy it.

But when you’re headed back down those subway stairs, pause to give a dollar or two to the bell-ringing Santa with the red bucket. It’s Christmas.

Share the wealth.

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