In what is a time-honored yearly tradition in Union City, members of the Union City commissioners were joined by singers from Union Hill High School and other distinguished guests last week as the City Hall Christmas Tree was lit.
While the weather was particularly brutal with a damp chill in the air, Mother Nature could not quell the spirits of those gathered for the festivities.
As an added bonus, hot chocolate and cookies were served across the street at the Union City Senior Building after the ceremony.
The Union Hill Singers kicked things off with a sweet version of "Silent Night," both in English and in Spanish. The singers also made the small assembled crowd of city workers and passersby (and passing traffic) smile with dead-on versions of other Christmas favorites including "O Holy Night."
A city worker dressed as Santa Claus made his appearance and seemed to be a bit confused by his assigned role when he shouted "Bah Humbug" a couple of times. Many of the students appeared to not even get the reference. Perhaps they were too young to remember "A Christmas Carol."
Union City Commissioners Michael Leggiero, Tilo Rivas and Christopher Irizarry came out to the top of the City Hall stairs to rousing applause and addressed the crowd. Commissioner Luis Martin was away on business and Mayor Brian Stack was attending a freeholders meeting and could not make the festivities.
Irizarry welcomed the crowd and implored those present to not forget those that are less fortunate.
Said Irizarry, "The lights on the Christmas tree remind us that even in the darkness, there is light. And perhaps the best present you can give someone, and yourself, is to help someone in need."
Irizarry may have been making reference to the latest victims of a fire in Union City. The fire occurred early last Saturday morning and has left approximately 20 people seeking temporary shelter. In an eerie coincidence, last year's Christmas tree lighting ceremony found Irizarry making similar comments. A fire that occurred on December 6, 2002 left eight families homeless.
This years Christmas tree lighting was made all the more special by the fact that the tree was donated by city residents. Philip and Toni Verdino, lifelong residents of Union City, had decided that the tree was just growing too large for their front yard. Aside from being probably some of the few people in Union City that actually have a front yard, the gesture was heartfelt and grand enough for the Union City Commissioners to bestow a proclamation on them, thanking them for the donation.
Said Philip of his donation, "Well, it was just getting too big for our front yard. My father planted this tree in 1968 and we never thought it would get this big. My wife Toni and I have been in Union City for so long, I thought this was a good way to give a little back to the community, back to the city that's been so good to me."
As the crowd dispersed, Union Hill student Gabrielle Hayre brought everyone's attention back to the tree as she stood next to it and, microphone in hand, serenaded the crowd with a medley of Christmas songs. Hayre's voice is of a professional stature and it wouldn't be surprising to see Hayre on many world stages in the near future. For a moment, Hayre made the crowd forget about the hot chocolate waiting for them across the street. Finally, the spell was broken and the assembled revelers melted away, smiling.