Manhattan’s Elizabeth Street Garden rings in the Winter Solstice

Natasha Wozniak and Catherine Nguyen ring their bells beside a statue wrapped in lights.
Photo by Dean Moses

The residents of Little Italy/SoHo constructed their own winter wonderland to literally ring in the holiday season.  

The Elizabeth Street Garden located between Prince and Spring Streets hosted their annual Winter Solstice Celebration on Dec. 20th and it certainly looked the part. Carpeted by a blanket of snow, the statues throughout the beloved plot of land had been enveloped with golden fairy lights, creating a picturesque, almost ethereal setting. Set up entirely by volunteers, these impressive visuals served merely as the backdrop for what the yearly event represented.

The Winter Solstice Celebration was a much needed respite for attendees. Photo by Dean Moses

Attendees filed into the garden at 6 p.m., where they were handed multicolored bells, each hue representing a different note. In years past a conductor would call for a particular color to be rung which would, in turn, create a musical number to commemorate the holiday. However, this year–like most things in 2020–the event had to be altered in order to comply with social distancing measures. In place of creating a chime symphony, celebrants took their bells in hand and simply shook out the frustrations of the last 12 months with a three-minute-long cacophony of jingles and clangs, which resonated from the Garden at just after 6:30 p.m.  

Irenka Jakubiak and Maria Giorgio excitedly rang their bells in celebrations of the Winter Solstice. Photo by Dean Moses

Joseph Reiver, Elizabeth Street Garden Executive Director was pleasantly surprised about the turnout, which signaled to him the need for events like these during this time, and the importance of the Elizabeth Street Garden in general. Reiver has been working to keep the site open long before the pandemic began its hit list of closures. For the past two years, the Elizabeth Street Garden has been engaged in a legal battle with the City of New York and the Department of Housing Preservation and Development to stop them from destroying the site by developing housing on its grounds. 

“We are excited to hear back from the judge. So, let’s take this moment to celebrate,” Reiver said happily as he asked everyone to join him in ringing their bells in celebration of the garden and reining in the Winter Solstice. 

With the help of their attorney, Norman Siegel, Elizabeth Street Garden has been able to remain an open green space for the community. Many of the attendees are pleased that the garden has remained open throughout the pandemic since it has created an option to interact while practicing social distancing. 

Catherine Nguyen, a local resident is a strong advocate for the safety and tranquility the garden provides. She recalls attending the first public hearing back in 2019 when it was initially announced that developers planned to create an area to provide affordable housing and green space; but frequent visitors like Nguyen argue that eliminating Elizabeth Street Garden is detrimental to the community since it will end free programing, public access to diverse green space, cultural interaction, and more.

Participants were asked to bring their own bells or they could borrow one from the Elizabeth Street Garden’s volunteers. Photo by Dean Moses

“Especially during a pandemic, people are realizing you can develop housing somewhere else because people need parks as a space to just breathe and relax in the city,” said Nguyen, who hopes that the latest court hearing will be a turning point for the garden. “This is for people who want to commune with nature. It’s so important in an area that is so congested and overtaken by tourists.” 

Both Reiver, volunteers, and community members hope that the Elizabeth Street Garden will be around for many more years and many more Winter Solstice celebrations.

Volunteers adorned the various statues and columns within Elizabeth Street Garden with lights for the celebration. Photo by Dean Moses