Christmas in Crosswicks

Christmas is meant for community. We are brought together each year by the light that came into the world.  This joy is to be shared among friends, family, and neighbors!   

I remember sharing this joy and love in my hometown of Crosswicks, NJ.  I have written two other blogs on Crosswicks linked here if you want to read more.   American Anthem: More Crosswicks less Crosswise A Penny A Minute, A Lifetime of Lessons

I decided to write this blog after seeing several pictures of my old hometown from my childhood and current friend, Katherine Caldwell.  Other pictures are in the video at the end, also produced by Katherine Caldwell with a new song to an old tune from me.  But the one below of Main Street blanketed in snow got me dreaming of Christmas in Crosswicks.

Crosswicks in Snow image by Katherine Caldwell

I never tire of thinking of Christmas in my hometown.   The snow glistening in the trees.  The 100+ year old Christmas tree bursting into light!  Neighbors singing Christmas Carols around a bonfire and later warming themselves with hot apple cider.  The candlelight service in the 200-year-old Quaker Meeting House.    There are four main reasons Christmas in Crosswicks is special and makes the holiday shine brighter.   

1. Christmas in Crosswicks is Historic!  Crosswicks was settled by Quaker immigrants back in 1677.  Christmas celebrations and worship have been ongoing ever since.  The Quaker Meeting House that still stands and holds the annual Candlelight service each Christmas was built in 1773.    This years’ service went virtual except for the musicians due to COVID on Dec. 20, keeping the tradition unbroken. 

The Christmas of 1776 is particularly noteworthy. Crosswicks was occupied by Colonial troops of  General Cadwallader in preparation for the historic Battle of Trenton which one of the turning points of the Revolutionary War.   

I am also proud that despite Covid, Crosswicks celebrated the 101st lighting of the large Christmas tree that sits in the Quaker fields near the Community House.  To see the magic, look at this link for this year’s virtual ceremony.  Crosswicks Christmas Tree Lighting.  

One last historic Christmas moment relates to a historic building that was three buildings down from my home.  Brick’s Mincemeat Factory was built in 1879 and until 1968 was the state’s largest producer of mincemeat.  It is now a historical building but still holds special memories of the mincemeat pies we had each Christmas. Read more here – Brick’s Mincemeat Factory

The historic nature of Christmas in Crosswicks makes it special but not necessarily unique.  I encourage all in this unprecedented year to learn more about the history of your town related to Christmas. 

2. Sharing of Faith and Fellowship. Crosswicks had diversity when it comes to faith and denomination.  I already mentioned that the city was founded by Quakers and the Candlelight service at the Quaker Meeting House is a fixture of the holiday season.  But one of the things that I remember most about the holiday season is learning about Hanukkah at my elementary school each year.  I still remember the dreidel song taught to us by one of my friend’s mother. Also, that Hanukkah was the Festival of Light represented by the menorah. 

We also had the United Methodist Church which was attended by my good friend.  I would sing with her father, a retired Methodist minister, songs like Go Tell it on the Mountain that we did not normally sing in my Catholic Church.  We also had the historic Grace African Methodist Episcopal Church organized in 1868 located 3 buildings down the street from my house.   The church was  the first African American denomination organized and incorporated in the United States. I remember the Christmas hymns of joy echoing forth from the Church.  We of Crosswicks were of different faiths and denominations but we shared our beliefs and joy openly during the season

3. Joining in Civil Community.  We also joined each holiday season in civil community.  Each year our family joined our fellow “Crosswicksians” in the annual bonfire and Christmas Tree lighting.  We would all circle the tree at the Community Center and sing Christmas Carols both secular and religious.  Voices rising together as one community we sang of hope and love! Later we drank hot apple cider and ate donuts as we shared fellowship about the encroaching holiday Season.  To close the day, Santa Claus would ride on the back of the firetruck and toss candy to all of us.  It was all a kid could want!

4.  Exploring the Wonders of Winter with Friends.  After all that candy, cider, and donuts, we needed an outlet to burn off the calories.  Our rural town (imagine that in Jersey) offered a wealth of options in the winter month.  No Netflix for us!  We grabbed our skates and went skating on the Frog Pond behind the library or better, yet we sled down “the Hill” behind the old Firehouse.   I remember leaving the house at 8 am on some days and not returning until 9 PM.  The only break would be a grape soda and some candy at Applegate’s Market. 

We even exercised when getting our Christmas Trees.  No Papa Noel’s or Walmart for us.  We went with our Dad to cut down a tree at Nicholson’s Tree Farm.  I am envious of my cousin since she still lives down the street. 

In closing, Christmas in Crosswicks was full of faith, fellowship and fun.  That is why some forty years later, I am still dreaming of Christmas in the Crosswicks.  You may be dreaming of Christmas in your hometown.  Christmas in the year of Covid just feels different from those of the past.  We are asked to remain apart and not to congregate.  And when we are not standing apart, we are sometimes ripping each other apart with cutting remarks. 

For all, the light of Christmas may seem a bit dimmer this year.  And, despite our best efforts to set our homes alight like the Griswold’s, we cannot capture the brightness of a smile or the warmth of a human touch.  Light does not come from a bulb! Rather it comes from hearts joined with the joy of Christmas! 

I think God and nature conspired to replicate the Christmas star this Solstice, 2020 to remind us that when two planets conjoin their lights, the heavens are brighter.  Let us conspire, like my neighbors in Crosswicks, to virtually cross our wicks to bring the light of hope! Let us share the spark of humanity with each other to break the isolation of Covid and the rancor of rivalry! 

We may not be able to be together in real time this year, but we can strive to be together virtually.  Reach out to old friends on Zoom.  Say a prayer for someone in need.  Donate to a charity.  And most of all honor the light that has come into the world with worship and kindness for all.  And until next year, I am dreaming of Christmas in Crosswicks.  Let me close with a song.  

The lyrics are below:

Photos by Katherine Caldwell, lyrics and sung by Don Grier to tune of White Christmas

Christmas in Crosswicks

I am dreaming of Christmas in Crosswicks,

Just like the ones I used to know,

Where people got together,

In all kinds of weather,

To watch the Christmas tree aglow!

I am dreaming of Christmas in Crosswicks,

And the bonfires in the night,

May all your memories be bright,

And when we cross the wicks with neighbors, we bring more light!

Advent: Love’s Everlasting Kiss

The Mount of Olives

In Advent we wait expectantly for God’s Love Incarnate. Not the gooey eyed love that we experience on a porch swing and a first kiss, but rather the long, hard fought victorious love that endures past a last kiss. The love of a God who so loved the world that he gave his only Son. The Love of our Lord who in the dungeons of Caiaphas, the agony of the Garden, and nailed to the Cross loves us, dies for our sins to be resurrected and gain us a path to Heaven.

The Love of Mary who agrees to bring God into this world and stands there at the foot of the cross. She takes that hard-won love with her to the house of John where she leads the apostles until she is assumed into Heaven and crowned its Queen. The love of a God that endures in the church and the sacrifice of the Saints. The Love despite our faults and sins is coming again to the Mount of Olives!

In closing, this poem came to me as a remembrance for my sister in law. This morning I believe that Love in the form of the Holy Spirit asked me to send this poem at the start of a new liturgical year on the Priesthood and Passion of Jesus:

Love does not come easy,
it’s built in trials,
minute by minute,
day by day.
It is built on sorrow,
As much as hope,
Tears and hardship,
As much as laughter.
It does not flit,
It does not float,
It is SOLID,
and it ENDURES!
Why love then?
It is our purpose and mission,
What we were built for,
What God designed!
Because love does not last,
for a minute or an hour.
It lasts a lifetime,
and through eternity.
So, drive on through the pain,
And strive through the sorrow, And with one last kiss,
Reach for the tomorrow.
And, remember in waiting,
Not the words left spoken or tears,
But the smile and loving eyes,
That resound through the years.

Peloton Pandemic Pandemonium

The ongoing pandemic is stressful.  The recent pandemonium around the Presidential Election even more.  What is the anecdote?  Peloton Pandemic Pandemonium (PP))!  What is that?  Read on!

My love affair with spinning is chronicled in several of my previous blogs listed here Spinning is Winning! A Ride for A Reason Back in the Saddle for St. Jude’s Don’t Stop Believing: A Weight Loss Journey in Three Intervals Heroes of Health Series, Episode 2 – Corey the Cycling King.  Spinning classes helped me regain my health, brought me new friends, and a new skill as a certified instructor! So, when the pandemic hit, I loss my number one stress outlet.  My gym and cycling class were closed.  I could no long Clip-In and Tune Out before or after a long day at work.  What to do? Peloton!

Peloton for those uninitiated is a virtual platform for cycling and other exercise programs.  You can ride with other cyclists around the world virtually!  You can do so either on the Peloton stationary bike or by using the  Peloton virtual service available on your phone, with your own equipment. On Peloton Live In-Studio rides you can compete with other cyclists on the virtual leaderboard.  They have excellent instructors who are fun and uplifting like my four favorites Jenn Sherman, Leanne Hainsby, Alex Toussaint, and Kendall Toole.  The others are great too!

I had used the virtual Peloton app as a supplement to my gym spin class.  But now decided to get the bike.  I loved it from the moment I got it.  And it made me think that my fellow work colleagues would love it too.  So, I and a friend came up with a virtual stress valve program appropriately called Peloton Pandemic Pandemonium.  Each week we pick up to 3 live rides and post the time and date on our company’s local website.  People join with our group’s hashtag and we have a fun virtual race.  Also, we give each other virtual high fives and chat as we ride. 

Peloton Pandemic Pandemonium helps us stay healthy and happy during these difficult times.  Here are the three major ways that PPP helps to keep you sane in these insane times:

1.  Endorphins!  Spinning, especially the Peloton variety is an endorphin rush.  The mixture of music and interval exercise brings a flood of endorphins that helps to counter the darkest thoughts.  The endorphin- exercise connection is well documented (read here WebMD Article).  PPP is the way to crush, despair with an endorphin rush!

2.  Tune-in and Sing!  I love exercising to music.  Nothing is more relaxing and stress relieving then belting out your favorite tunes as you spin. The good news about PPP is you can sing in the comfort of your own home.  No embarrassment and no drowning out by the person next to you.  But watch out!  Singing too loud while biking at 100 RPMs can nearly cause you to pass out.  I need to watch it the next time we do another Hamilton (Robin Arzón) or Bon Jovi (Kendall Toole) theme ride.  (Need to add Jenn Sherman’s Epic Sing Along Series).

3.  Community.  Peloton and our company group PPP is a community.  We care about each other.  We high five when people hit a milestone and pick them up when they fall-down.  In addition, theme rides really help celebrate commonalities and share hardships and trials.  One of the best such rides is Kendall Toole’s ride on World Mental Health Day which focused on the importance of Mental Health.  See my thoughts especially on Veteran’s Mental Health here. Mental Health Thoughts

So, there you have it.  Three ways Peloton helps you with the Pandemic and Pandemonium of today!  Message me or comment if you would like to participate in PPP!

Elvis and the Pandemic

Two songs sung by two Elvis’s are my go-to’s during this Pandemic. Both speak of driving through hard times with hope around the corner. They acknowledge the pain while seeking the future.  And my favorite part.  You can belt them out with a beer in hand after a hard day.

The first one is from that other Elvis, and truth be told my favorite Elvis – Elvis Costello.  Unlike his other hits, he did not write this one (Nick Lowe did) but Elvis does the best rendition – “(What’s So Funny ‘Bout) Peace, Love And Understanding” . For you have not hear it, here is the official version https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Ssd3U_zicAI.

I once listened to this song on repeat at least 20 times after a hard week.  The first verse and the chorus tell the story:

“As I walk through this wicked world
Searchin’ for light in the darkness of insanity
I ask myself, “Is all hope lost?
Is there only pain and hatred and misery?”

And each time I feel like this inside
There’s one thing I wanna know
What’s so funny ’bout peace, love and understanding?
What’s so funny ’bout peace, love and understanding?”  Lyrics Nick Lowe

Every time I read a friend attacking another friend on Facebook in some political fight or hear about the loss of another brave soul I ask myself the same question in the first verse. But then catch myself and realize that the peace, love, and understanding lies within me. Our soul longs for peace. We just need to cling to it and understand that everyone carries pain. It is up to you to bring inner peace, to show love to your friends and enemies, and understand the pain and hope of others. Rise to the occasion, extend a hand and be the peacemaker.

The second song is by the THE Elvis – Elvis Presley. This song was sung for the first time in Elvis’s Comeback Concert in 1968 at the end.  It was written by Walter Earl Brown and came 2 months after Martin Luther King’s assassination.  It also contains some MLK quotes.  Only 5 at the time, I still remember it.  Here are some of the words. 

“There must be lights burning brighter somewhere
Got to be birds flying higher in a sky more blue
If I can dream of a better land
Where all my brothers walk hand in hand
Tell me why, oh why, oh why can’t my dream come true,

Oh why.

There must be peace and understanding sometime
Strong winds of promise that will blow away the doubt and fear
If I can dream of a warmer sun
Where hope keeps shining on everyone
Tell me why, oh why, oh why won’t that sun appear

We’re lost in a cloud
With too much rain
We’re trapped in a world
That’s troubled with pain
But as long as a man
Has the strength to dream
He can redeem his soul and fly”

The Elvis’s sang the truth!  What’s so funny ‘bout peace, love, and understanding?  Absolutely NOTHING!  Is there a light shining brighter somewhere? It is in our grasp.  If we choose to live, love, learn and lead!  

Here is my attempt at channeling Elvis.

Not Elvis but maybe not bad. Be the brighter sun! 

Nothing …

I close my eyes and dream again,

Of a distant time, way back when,

My doubts were quiet, my heart sure,

That our love was lasting, true and pure.

Then opening my eyes, I see your face,

And my illusions vanish without a trace,

For the eyes that once shone for me,

Now stare off in the darkness, sullenly.

“Where did I fail, what went wrong?”

I ask in a voice that once was strong,

You just frown and turn away,

“Nothing … nothing ” is all you say.

Don Grier 2020

NYPD Blue

23 died when the towers fell,

You left your families, walked through hell,

For a cause both righteous and true,

Selfless sacrifice of the NYPD Blue.

42nd street was a mess,

And so was Times Square,

In the eighties,

Before order was there,

You built back a city,

Where dreams again flew,

You restored it,

The officers of the NYPD Blue.

The whole world took notice,

At the work you had done,

And sought to learn,

How the streets were won.

How soon they forget,

What is undeniably true,

New York is not New York,

Without the NYPD Blue.

Lost and Found

I wish I could reach back,

Reach back in the past,

When my soul was innocent,

And my heart pure.

When I could look at something,

And say “There, that’s right,

I know it to be right,

I have no doubts.”

But age begets doubts,

And time desperation,

In a world charged with sorrow,

Nothing is for certain,

nothing for sure,

All we can do is love,

And love some more,

Hoping God is smiling on us,

To bring about a better day!