Monday, December 6, 2010

NATIVITY vs NEGATIVITY

We are bombarded with bad news every day. Even during the holidays, we are constantly reminded that the economy is tanking, unemployment is soaring, the future of health care is unsettled, the fabric of America's way of life is challenged by threats of domestic terrorism, tensions in the Mid-East seem like they'll never end, plus our military is being picked-off one by one in far off outposts in Iraq and Afghanistan...and if that wasn't enough...North Korea is now flexing its bullying muscles too. But somehow, this past Friday, just five miles away, I received an unexpected moment of calm that translated into the greatest gift of all, hope. This nice surprise happened at the Shoppes of Historic Smithville, (New Jersey)...when I "high-fived" Santa Claus.

Santa's early December arrival has been a Galloway Township tradition for years. Recently, the historic Towne of Smithville has been the honored host. But what is Smithville and what makes it historic?

Its earliest prominence relates to the Revolutionary War. At a time when Philadelphia, (60 miles west) was occupied by the British, colonial privateers/smugglers used Smithville's nearby Little Egg Harbor River to sneak in goods.

After the war in 1787, the Smithville Inn opened as a single-room stagecoach stop. Over the years it expanded several times and in 1952, it and seven adjacent acres were bought by a local couple and converted into a restaurant. Soon, houses and other buildings of the Revolutionary period were bought elsewhere and transplanted on their property. These visionaries then restored the antique buildings for commerce and historic Smithville was born.
MY PARENTS LIKED TO TAKE US TO THE SMITHVILLE INN, ON OUR WAY TO ATLANTIC CITY IN THE MID-60's.
In the early 1990's, the town was going through a down turn. While the Smithville Inn remained the anchor, nearly all the other shops closed. Luckily, the village was bought by a progressive party and slowly but surely, dilapidated Smithville was resurrected. This success story combined an aggressive marketing strategy, a contemporary flavor to its early-Americana theme and a sizable expansion.
A RELAXING STROLL THROUGH ITS 60+ SHOPS ISN'T COMPLETE WITHOUT CHECKING OUT THE SWANS, GEESE AND DUCKS IN AND AROUND THE LAKE.

Today, distant visitors and locals are lured to town by the brick sidewalks and cobblestone lined streets that are packed with specialty shops, restaurants, bars, theaters, a bed and breakfast and so much more. For kids, a boardwalk surrounds the revitalized waterfront of Lake Meone that has a carousel, arcades, paddle boats and the famous Smithville Railroad.

WHEN SMITHVILLE WAS GETTING RESTORED, I REMEMBER "TRACY THE CONDUCTOR," AGONIZING FOR MONTHS OVER HARD TO FIND LOCOMOTIVE PARTS. IN THE MEAN TIME, MY THREE-YEAR OLD ANDREW OPTED TO LIVE THE LIFE OF HIS "THOMAS THE TRAIN," FRIENDS BY WALKING... MANY, MANY TIMES, EVERY INCH OF ITS VACANT RAILROAD TRACKS.

In addition to Smithville being an important destination for travelers on their way to the shore, golfing or the casinos, it has maintained its greatness by attracting huge year-round crowds to special events. The Irish Festival, Haunted Halloween, Independence Day Parade, Oktoberfest, May Fest and this past Friday's arrival of Santa are some of those highlights. TO WELCOME SANTA AND SPICE-UP THE HOLIDAY SPIRIT, THE LAKE AND ITS WHARF ARE LIT UP.

We took Andrew to see Santa come to Smithville, twelve years ago. And while the deeper significance of the occasion might be lost on four-year olds, the special experience of coming out after dark, freezing and seeing the spectacle, can last a lifetime.

This week, my son recreated this joy by being a part of the festivities. He appeared as Batman with a group of other characters employed by, "FAIRYTALE ENTERTAINMENT," to fluff-up the crowd before Santa and Mrs. Claus arrived.

IN OCTOBER AT A FAIR IN ABSECON, BATMAN SITED THE SLOPPINESS FACTOR AND ADVISED A RANDOM YOUTH TO THE ADVANTAGES OF ICE CREAM IN A CUP OVER A CONE.

Santa's arrival is aimed at younger kids however it is popular with children of all ages. On Friday night, many families, to assure easier parking, came early and had dinner somewhere in Smithville first. In preparation for the extravaganza, one of the parking lots had been cordoned-off. About an hour before hand, a semi-circle of people began to form outside the partitioned area. Then to entertain the waiting crowd, teenagers such as my son came into the circle, in character costumes. They all braved the 30 degree elements but Cinderella had it worst because she wore a sleeveless dress and open toed shoes.

IF YOU SQUINT, THAT'S SUE AND I REVELING IN THE RAUCOUS FUN FEST.

The characters were given a rock star reception as they created a party atmosphere by interacting with their adoring fans. In addition to Batman; Cinderella, Woody from, "TOY STORY" and Belle from, "BEAUTY AND THE BEAST," appeared. Other characters such as; Mickey Mouse, Frosty the Snowman and Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer were provided by another talent agency.

To the delight and relief of the masses, the ever-punctual Santa arrived exactly at 6:30. First, the scene was cleverly set-up as a distance siren alerted everyone that something special was about to happen. The blaring calling card turned everyone's attention through the barren trees to an intense, bright light. The alarm pierced the cold night air as it neared while baritone car horns added to the excitement. Silhouetted through the woods, a hook and ladder slowly came into view. The hordes were now primed and nearly delirious with anticipation. Just when you thought the noise level couldn't get louder, the crowd gave out an emphatic cheer as the fire truck turned into the lot.

Parents pointed skyward to the top of the fire engine's extended ladder. And there he was, the symbol of endless possibilities, lit by a spot-light, three stories up. To see that jolly soul perched so high together with Mrs. Claus, it was easy to get choked up by happiness as they waved to the thrilled mob below. The illusion of flight was completed when fire truck did a victory lap around the parking lot. It stopped at the far end. The crow's nest bucket was slowly lowered to street level. I was directly in front of them as a firefighter opened the safety gate and allowed Mrs. Claus out first then Santa. The frenzy got better as the Claus's meet-n-greet included shaking the multitude of multi-cultural mini-hands.

SANTA THEN EARNED HIS GLOBAL ICON STATUS BY LISTENING TO KIDS EXPRESS THEIR INNER MOST NEEDS AND THEN HE RESPONDED WITH MESSAGES OF POSITIVISM.

The climax of the evening came when the Claus's led the other characters into the mosh-pit-like crush of the audience. I got to watch my scion mingle with the kids, answer questions and pose for pictures.

THE CAPED CRUSADER POSED FOR COUNTLESS PICTURES AND MADE A GAZILLION NEW FRIENDS.

I was especially proud when a dad finished snapping some photos and whispered to his wife, "Batman is the nicest one (character)." I was already on cloud-nine with the worries of the world a million mind-miles away when I turned and came face to face with Mr. Kris Kringle himself. In a reflex action, I offered him a high-five and to my pleasant surprise, he responded enthusiastically. So whenever you compare the nativity to negativity, the holiday season, however you celebrate it, will always win out. Trust me, I had a smile the rest of the night and a real feeling of hope and optimism that should not wear thin for a long time.

The next morning, Andrew and the Fairytale Entertainment players got a related gig when they again joined forces with Santa and Mrs. Claus for the Smithville Inn's character breakfast.
TO ADD TO THEIR NOTORIETY, ANDREW'S CREW WAS INTERVIEWED BY A COUPLE OF NEWSPAPERS INCLUDING THE GOTHAM CITY PEE-POTTERS PRESS.

This sold-out breakfast included two seatings of 300 people. Santa's opened the proceedings with his usual announcement that he's having trouble getting down some chimneys. He reminded all the kids to limit the cookies they leave for him, to three. And always, please, please, please, NO OATMEAL!

When I saw Andrew's satisfaction at the end I said, "If Karl Marx ever entertained kids as a character, nobody would have ever heard of Communism." Then I added, "Hopefully, this success will spark additional work for you and your comrades." When Santa hears those pearls of wisdom, maybe he'll want to high-five me again.

5 comments:

Anonymous said...

The whole time I was reading your blog I was wondering why I never brought my daughter there to see Santa's arrival. I'm going to make it a point to be there next year. I can easily imagine how you felt to be there because I felt good just reading about it! Good job Steve! The Donald

historicsmithville said...

Hi this is Tracy the conductor..Do you know after 13 years that train still gives me trouble now and again!! Love to hear how Smithville has a specail place in your past, your present and I am sure your future!!

Anonymous said...

Sounds like a lot of fun. We're about 25 miles south but I'm going to make a note to take our grand kids to Smithville next year.

Once again, great blog and I love to read about your son, you must be so very proud. --- M of M&T

Anonymous said...

Good afternoon from Greece. Just wanted to show my appreciate your time and hard work

Anonymous said...

Nice job capturing the Smithville experience. I always look forward to the times we get over there.

I saw that the Galloway Current newspaper covered the big Santa arrival event. They quoted your son and included his picture...its on page 24 of this week's edition. --- WTW