Before the countdown, and before the tree was lit, thousands gathered on the New Haven Green Thursday evening for carnival rides, singing and dancing — and political protests large and small — that all added up to a full evening of holiday festivities.
Dozens arrived before dark in anticipation of the city’s annual tree lighting, now a tradition more than 30 years old. With cool but pleasant weather prevailing (unlike last year, which was colder and much wetter), the carousel at the south end of the Green was full as the light began to fade.
Dark set in to a Green beginning to move with activity.
Near the bandstand, the city had set up several tents for kids to make arts and crafts projects. In another tent nearby, people lined up for free cocoa to keep their hands — and their insides — warm.
Toward Church Street, adults and kids alike delighted in feeding and petting llamas and pygmy goats.
On the bandstand, a parade of groups began to entertain the crowd. Early in the night saw the New Haven Ballet grace the stage with a selection from the Nutcracker (which runs at the Shubert Dec. 16 and 17; click here for tickets and more information).
The New Haven Free Public Library’s Readmobile saw a steady stream of visitors large and small.
As the time drew near for the tree-lighting itself, the whirligig next to the carousel was packed with delighted children.
Families nourished themselves with beverages from the Jitter Bus and food from the Cheese Truck, Shoreline Prime Meats and Deli truck, and others.
This year’s tree lighting got a little political, but even these statements were in keeping with the season. The bandstand saw an ode to Puerto Rico that filled the stage with people and drew raucous cheers from the crowd.
New Haven Stands with Standing Rock also staged a protest, asking the city of New Haven to follow Seattle’s lead and pull its accounts with Wells Fargo due to practices by the bank that the protestors called “dishonest” — its creating fake accounts for customers in a scandal that broke last year, its discriminatory practices against African American and Latino mortgage holders, and its investment in the Dakota Access Pipeline and for-profit detention centers. But even this serious protest was framed in festive terms, as New Haven Stands with Standing Rock members donned colorful elf caps, playfully rewrote the lyrics to traditional Christmas carols, and moved around the Green serenading the crowd and inviting people to sign a petition to send to Mayor Toni Harp.
Melinda Tuhus, a member of New Haven Stands with Standing Rock, said that the group had sent a first batch of 500 signatures to Harp’s office at the end of August. “We want to get up to 1,000,” she said. “We’ve got a few hundred to go.” They’d collected a couple dozen after an hour and found a generally receptive audience. “As soon as we mentioned Wells Fargo, they said, ‘I’ll sign,’” Tuhus said.
Behind her, to the tune of “O Tannenbaum,” fellow Standing Rock members sang, “Oh, Wells Fargo, oh, Wells Fargo / how greedy are your branches? / Let’s not forget last wintertime / your cops, your dogs / your pipelines.”
As 7 p.m. came and went, the crowd thickened. A group of teenagers burst into “Feliz Navidad.” A drone with red running lights rose over the Green. Shortly after 7:20, Harp took the stage to announce that the tree on the Green would be officially lit, reminding the now thousands gathered there that “all are welcome” in the city.
The crowd counted down like it was New Year’s Eve, and the tens of thousands of bulbs on the tree lit up. After a collective cheer, families and couples gathered around the tree.
Many huddled together to take pictures.
Others came close just to bask in its light, as another holiday season officially began in the Elm City, politics and all.