In one square mile.
For December I wanted to write something timely to the holiday season and in the spirit of Christmas. But with an unusually busy off-season of real estate, I found myself having difficulty getting into the swing of things. On December 2nd I attended a dinner party hosted by my friend Melanie. That weekend was the Chamber Christmas Tree Lighting in Press Plaza and the Krampus Film Festival in the downtown, a kick-off to the holiday season in perfect Asbury Park style. I wasn’t all that familiar with the Krampus Festival, other than this is the 2nd annual event and that he’s pretty scary looking.
At the dinner party, I met and had a most interesting conversation with a woman named Ellie Ludvigsen. She was here visiting her friends Tom and Malcolm while in transition of relocating from Colorado to the east coast. Both of Ellie’s parents are from Denmark and she knew well the story of Krampus. “While Saint Nicholas rewards all the good children with gifts and treats – what about those ‘not so nice’ children (and adults) who misbehave – what are the consequences for their actions?”
According to eastern European folklore, Krampus is a companion of Saint Nicholas and punishes the naughty children by putting coal in their stockings. The name Krampus comes from the German word Krampen, which means claw, and the beastly character himself is half-goat and half-demon. This ancient mythical figure has morphed over time but is still celebrated in Germany and Austria, as well as in regions of Bavaria, Croatia, Czech Republic, Hungary, Slovenia, Northern Italy… and now Asbury Park!
*Krampus photos by Creative Pathways Photography, Ellie Ludvigsen.
The following weekend, who would appear from behind all the clatter but good ole Saint Nicholas himself. Not just one Santa, but thousands, also known in Asbury Park as SANTACON. I watched a gratuitous amount of Santas parade up and down Cookman Avenue from inside America’s Cup that Saturday afternoon. Santacon is a non-denominational, non-commercial, non-political and nonsensical Santa Claus convention that occurs once a year on the second weekend of December for absolutely no reason. I like to think of it as a Santa Mardi Gras; having himself a good time before heading off to bring gifts to children all over the world in just 24 hours. I had decided years ago that all those times zones must have been in his favor. How else could he do it? Santacon and Krampus, which are held on the first and second weekends in December, are mostly celebrated by the young at heart and, like those familiar words of Tom Gilmour, “only in Asbury Park.”
What was your first experience of Christmas? After being asked that question, I started to think about what the holiday really means, and how those early memories have formed traditions in my own family. Although most Christians still celebrate the birth of Jesus, it has gotten so far away from its original purpose. Then there’s Hanukkah, the Jewish Festival of Lights which lasts for eight days. During each of the eight nights a candle is lit in a menorah. It’s a time of giving, receiving, and thanking God. This year we will have a menorah in our downtown, donated by Sackman Enterprises. Look for it in Kennedy Park in the coming days.
As Ellie and I chatted she pointed out what makes Asbury Park special. It’s what most people love about it – the diversity. Ellie worked in the criminal justice system in New York City for 31 years and has grown to love urban environments. She compared them to the United Nations – “that is what makes our country so great.” She said. “In New York City there are 82 different ethnic groups and a restaurant from each of them. “Holiday traditions are based in culture and that makes it exciting.” We all know the traditions of Christmas and Hanukkah, but what about Kwanzaa? As Ellie put it, “Sometimes people are afraid of what’s different from them. Differences need to be honored and understood.”
Kwanzaa is a seven-day festival that takes place from December 26th to January 1st and celebrates African American culture and history. The name comes from the phrase “natunda ya kwanza’ which means ‘first fruits’ in the Swahili language. During Kwanzaa, a special candle holder, called a kinara, is used. A Kinara holds seven candles; three red ones on the left, three green ones on the right and a black candle in the center. Each night during Kwanzaa a candle is lit. The black center candle is lit first and then it alternates between the red and green candles, starting with the ones on the outside. It’s very similar to the lighting of the menorah which goes from left to right. The seven days and candles represent the seven principles of Kwanzaa: Unity of family, nation, and race; responsibility of self; community, building economics, creativity, and faith. A way of teaching children how to give, but not with money.
Every year Asbury Park hosts a Kwanza event at the Springwood Ave Senior Center. This year it was December 10th. It’s a great family-friendly event.
In wrapping things up, Ellie asked these final questions: What values have you gained from your holiday customs? What is important to do? Do we want to embrace the people around us? Do we want to have a perfect table, or spend the most amount of money?
You decide. Whatever it is, I hope it’s meaningful.
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