The blocks surrounding Fifth Avenue and 50th Street were closed to traffic. The cars on the streets that were open crawled forward one block at a time. Thankfully, in Manhattan, even if all you do is crawl slowly forward in traffic, there is still plenty to see and hear and remark upon.
Finally we arrived and parked in the vicinity of Rockefeller Center. There were crowds and more crowds. The people-flow was beautifully orchestrated by the NYPD. The smell of stoked fires from vendor trucks blew through the air. Mmm. Shish Kababs, pretzels, hot dogs.
It was cold. Groups of people were wearing warm looking floppy wool hats and serviceable long knit scarves with fringe that announced to the rest of us that they were Out of Towners.
In the line to see the windows at Saks there were wives with fancy haircuts and expensive earrings. “The line is worth it, these windows are beautiful!”, one wife ahead of us urged. Her husband looked dubious about it and gave us a shrug and a grin. We admired the crystal strappy sandals worn by one mannequin, and my 14-year-old niece dreamed out loud of wearing a different window designer’s gown to her prom. One-of-a-kind beauty.
Near the Christmas tree in Rockefeller Center a crush of us milled around shivering in the night. In the crowd, an Hispanic youth, with a bubble jacket, a Bronx accent and an authoritativeness born of growing up in the City, opined, “This tree is small. I thought it was going to be bigger.” I shook my head in agreement. The tree did look grander on TV. A college student passing around my sister and me called out loudly, “Go Red Storm!” My sister works at St. John’s University and was wearing a red team jacket. We all smiled at each other. I would have expected more people to be skating in the ice rink below. But hardly anyone skated. We all preferred each other’s company it seems. Crowded, cheerful, community.
We stopped by the lighted angels positioned on Rockefeller Plaza snap some photos and heard “Hark to the Bells” begin to ring out. There was movement, camera flashes, and “Ooh”-ing and “Oh”-ing going on around us. Turning around and looking up, we faced the Saks Fifth Avenue snow flake light show. Simply. Wonderful.
At St. Patrick’s Cathedral, evening mass was underway. The herds of picture-snapping observers wafting through the rear of the cathedral during mass was a wonder to me at first. I stood near a waist high marble font of holy water. Inexplicably, my right had itched to dip. I refrained. There were candle stations. At one station a worker serviced the candles, scraping and scooping out old wax and setting out newly refilled candles in red glass. The new candles were rapidly lit by visitors. My sister, who is not Catholic, lit a candle in honor of her friend and co-worker, who was sweeping her own kitchen floor a few months ago when an aneurism ended her life. My sister held back tears as she remembered Adelaide, and placed two single dollar bills in the bulging collection bin. Sanctity in Wonderland. (One of the bills, we figured out the next day, had actually been a Benjamin and not a Washington).
As we walked the few blocks back to the lot where we were parked, the first snowflakes of winter settled gently on the night.
How silently, how silently
The wondrous gift is given!
So God imparts to human hearts
The blessings of His heaven.
No ear may hear His coming,
But in this world of sin,
Where meek souls will receive Him still,
The dear Christ enters in.
O holy Child of Bethlehem
Descend to us, we pray
Cast out our sin and enter in
Be born to us today
We hear the Christmas angels
The great glad tidings tell
O come to us, abide with us
Our Lord Emmanuel
From O Little Town of Bethlehem!
by Rector Phillips Brooks (1835-1903)