East Harlem tree lighting spotlights Puerto Rican holiday traditions

A Christmas tree lighting in East Harlem brought the community together on Friday for some old-fashioned holiday cheer. 

Residents and elected officials gathered in Franklin Plaza at the intersection of Third Avenue and 106th Street around 6:30 p.m. for a special evening filled with performances from the Dream Charter School, the cast of “A Soulful Christmas” and plena music from local Pleneros — bringing together American and Puerto Rican holiday traditions.

Eve Colavito’s 9-year-old daughter sings in the Dream Charter School choir.

“We’re always really proud of this event and East Harlem is such a tightknit community,” she said. “In contrast to the divisions of our world now, being a part of a community that wants to take particular interest in such an event represents a lot about East Harlem.”

For the past 14 years, members of the East Harlem Christmas Tree Committee have been bringing joy to the neighborhood, and this year they decided to promote a bilingual theme, “Somos Uno / We Are One,” in support of the area’s Puerto Rican community.

Organizers of the tree lighting said the theme was in response to the “negative and divisive headlines choking the nation.”

Puerto Rico was devastated by Hurricane Maria in September and some of the island’s politicians have been critical of the federal government’s response to requests for aid. In New York City, which has a large Puerto Rican community, Mayor Bill de Blasio, City Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito and other elected officials have been outspoken for the need to support the storm-ravaged island.

A spokesman for Assem. Robert Rodriguez, who was in attendance, said the tree lighting was a great way to bring the community together.

“We are here for us, for the neighborhood, for our families. That is what makes East Harlem strong,” he said.

The tree itself is bedecked with ornaments made out of recycled plastic bottles created by East Harlem resident and artist Genevieve Andre, who recruited help from youth and seniors in the community.

In a sign of solidarity with the Puerto Rican community, the tree will also remain up through Jan. 17, extending through the Day of Three Magi Kings and Las Octavitas.

With Rajvi Desai