Stuyvesant Town and Peter Cooper Village held their annual tree lighting ceremony on Dec. 4 with a live band, Santa Claus, and the commemoration of a local activist leader.
Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the annual celebration was conducted very differently this year. The hour-long program was held in two separate locations within the apartment complex’s property and broadcast through both Zoom and Instagram live to ensure social distancing measures and enable those unable to attend in person to enjoy the festivities.
Hosted by Robert Vazquez, the festivities began on the newly constructed Playground 4, located between 16th and 17th street within the Avenue C Loop, under a metal shelter batted by rainfall.
Although the inclement weather quickly produced puddles around the makeshift set decorated with Christmas trees and flame lit lamps, the influx of rising water did not deter the performers from continuing the show.
The oval Holiday ensemble kicked off the night with upbeat renditions of classic seasonal songs before Anthony Sessions — a beloved local public safety officer described by the community as their own Mister Rogers — sang “The Christmas Song” by Nat King Cole from behind dark shades. A resident children’s choir named Stuyvesant Juniors also showed off their talents with a personalized take on “The 12 Days of Christmas.”
“There has always been some type of holiday activity in StuyTown, but never of this magnitude. Normally we would have a couple thousand people out at the oval but we told everybody it is virtual so they are watching through social media and Zoom,” Stuyvesant Town CEO Rick Hayduk said.
Although the observance was virtual, the music could be heard echoing between the apartment buildings for blocks, prompting some tenants to race to their windows where they watched the spectacle from 11 stories up. After all the songs had been sung and the instruments had come to a gentle halt, Hayduk settled into a chair, reading ‘”Twas the Night Before Christmas” for young viewers.
In order to make it in time for the tree lighting ceremony from the music stage, Hayduk and Vazquez hopped into a golf cart and drove to the heart of the apartment complex known as the Oval where a gigantic tree was waiting, along with Santa Claus himself.
A small group of families gathered to wave at their holiday hero from afar, but a special exception was made for Janice Rosario.
Rosario and her family were afforded the opportunity to help conclude the celebrations by lighting the tree. This honor was given as a thanks for the positive impact she has had in the East Village.
In the wake of the Black Lives Matter protests, Rosario founded The Good Neighbor Collective, a nonprofit organization where concerned residents of the Lower East Side and Alphabet City who did not feel comfortable campaigning in the streets during the height of the pandemic could still help make a difference on a local level.
“I saw our community really wanted to be active and didn’t quite know how because a lot of us are young parents and didn’t feel comfortable because of COVID. I decided to create a nonprofit so we as a community could give back,” said Rosario.
Since its inception less than a year ago, The Good Neighbor Collective has held a school supply drive that provided 100 public housing students education supplies and raised enough funds to feed 750 people for Thanksgiving.