My apologies to Atlanta and Athens and Porterdale and the North Pole, but ever since I was a child I have thought of New York City as Ground Zero for Christmas. I mean the Santa Claus, “Ho! Ho! Ho!” “Silver bells, silver bells …” part of Christmas.
Bethlehem will always be Ground Zero for the real Christmas.
But growing up and watching the Macy’s Parade and “Miracle of 34th Street” and the lighting of the tree in Rockefeller Center on my little black-and-white television set convinced me that the Big Apple had to be the place where all the cool people went to celebrate the holidays.
Last weekend I took 88 of the coolest people I knew to New York and it was everything I thought it would be — and oh so much more.
If I were back in school and writing an essay on what I did over my Christmas vacation, my teacher would flunk me for making stuff up. In the 56 hours I was in New York I enjoyed a delicious meal in a Little Italy restaurant so authentic that I’m pretty sure Jeff Faulkner sat in the dried blood from the last Mafia hit that took place there.
I saw the tree at Rockefeller Center and watched the ice skaters zip along the ice at the skating rink below. I rode to the Top of the Rock and saw the Empire State Building, face to face and saw the Radio City Music Hall Rockettes and cast put on the most wonderful show I have ever seen — by far. I stood in Times Square at midnight and it was so bright that my transition lenses turned dark. And that was just the first day.
I walked a couple of miles through the snow enjoying the magical decorations and store windows, went inside the New York Public Library, Grand Central Station and St. Patrick’s Cathedral. I shopped at Macy’s, mingled with an entire convention of drunken Santas, strolled through Central Park (four inches of fresh snow on the ground) and hailed a cab and bought a hot dog from a snarly street vendor. I had front row seats for the Broadway show, “Chicago” and stood, again, in Times Square at midnight.
I visited the Metropolitan Museum of Art and stood in entire rooms dedicated to Van Gogh and Monet and Pablo Picasso. I didn’t find Steve Pendley’s work, but I bet it is there. I also admired statues by Rodin and works from before Christ and the most incredibly beautiful Nativity scene I have ever seen. I cruised around Liberty Island and got an up close and personal view of the Statue of Liberty, not to mention a magnificent view of Lower Manhattan. I paid my respects to those who lost their lives on 9/11 and stood in awe as I took in Freedom Tower, which is rising from the ashes of that day.
Wasn’t it cold? Oh, goodness yes. But the novelty of a white Christmas kind of offset the cold.
Wasn’t it crowded and hectic and scary? Crowded and hectic — yes. Scary, not in the least.
Wasn’t it hard to keep up with 88 people and maintain a schedule? A little. OK. It was very hard, but most of the people who went with me grew up like I did, envisioning NYC as the epicenter of the Christmas universe — the colored light and shopping part of Christmas — and seeing the joy in their faces as they watched the high-kicking Rockettes and the pride in their faces as they stared at the Lady with the Lamp in New York Harbor made it more than worth a little extra aggravation.
They got to wake up in the city that doesn’t sleep and walk right through the heart of it and make a million memories that will stay with them long after their cold bones have been warmed. Hopefully they will even forgive me for hurrying them through the snow and making them get out of the bathroom line to catch the plane. Maybe the ladies I left at Rockefeller Center will even forgive me one day.
It was great weekend and I will treasure it always, but when I got home, around midnight Sunday, and turned on the lights to my own tree, I realized that there is no place like home for the holidays. I also realized how blessed I am to have such a nice warm and safe one, filled with family and loved ones.
Wherever you spend your Christmas I hope it is filled with peace and love and joy — and I hope that you know the hope that was born along with the little baby that was placed in that manger on the first Christmas — in Bethlehem.
Darrell Huckaby is an author in Rockdale County. Email him at darrellhuckaby.net. For archived columns, go to www.gwinnettdailypost.com/darrellhuckaby.