Everyone knows about eight days of Chanukah and 12 days of Christmas and New Year’s Eve and Day (here’s to temperate ones), but there’s also 43 days and nights of the Park Avenue Memorial Tree display - from December 6 to Martin Luther King’s birthday on January 18. But too few know these lovely lighted fir trees lining Park Avenue every year are there to remember all who made the ultimate sacrifice in this nation’s wars.
So do spread the word, and do make this serene and meaningful scene after sundown. Very few strollers there now, unlike the December 6th tree lighting ceremony at Brick Church, where hundreds, especially young families, crowded the blocked-off streets for this event of tributes and caroling. And I could not have made it without a friend to help me maneuver the crowds to the reserved seats in front of the church. Something to think about. And to really think about are some thoughts from Reverend Michael Lindvall’s opening remarks. They deserve to be widely heard and remembered for 2016 and beyond.
“Welcome to the 71st Annual Park Avenue Tree lighting ceremony,” the minister began … and I really loved this: ”We gather together as a wonderful mix of God’s children, Christians of many denominations, Jews, Muslims, those who believe, those who struggle with belief, and those who cannot believe. In spite of such distinctions, know that all - all are welcome.”
“These trees were first lit in 1945 just after World War II. Every year since, they have honored men and women, who fought in our nation’s armed services, especially those who sacrificed their lives for freedom.” (I might add several Park Avenue mothers whose sons gave their lives in World War II began this blessed tradition).
“These lights also celebrate our great City of New York and its neighborhoods – our will to become a community in the anonymity of a huge city. Our gathering here defies all the forces of darkness which would work to divide.” (Of course I thought of “community” lost as the small businesses which meet everyday needs and the rental homes, are replaced by luxury condos and big business towers. And how countless more must actively defy this legal urban darkness).
Reverend Lindvall remembers it was also “the first night of Hanukkah and the festival of lights” and all they stood for. Lighted Hawthorne bushes are part of this display.
Of course, he thanked all who made these lighted trees possible, above all Barbara McLaughlin and the Fund for Park Avenue. So do we all!
For many, the best part was the almost half hour of really joyful carol singing led by Keith Toth, Brick’s Minster of Music. And how we need sing-a-longs all year and everyone singing – goodwill songs that unite – yup, especially generations.
Taps played by trumpeter, Thomas Hoyt, brought us back to the real meaning of these Memorial Trees. And the minister’s closing prayer began with, “God of all peoples, shine your light into the world’s darkness as we dedicate these trees and their lights to those who died for freedom and peace, give us courage to live for peace and freedom … may your light again be born in us kindling hearts gone cold, and illuminating moral indignation gone dim. Be with all leaders of this world that we may at last beat all these spears into pruning hooks and swords into plowshares.”
Amen and amen! And, again, may that “moral indignation” really “be illuminated” against the destruction of our community - affordable neighborhood places and homes!
And may more of the hundreds gathered for this annual event also fill those faith group pews every Sabbath day. We can’t afford to lose any more places of worship. And I hope you will get a copy of Reverend Lindvall’s entire message by calling Brick Church at 212-289-4400. For more peace, good will and moral indignation in 2016!