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!

Christmas in Jersey

Today I am going to take a break from my typical weight loss blog because I am feeling nostalgic about Christmas and Jersey. I got in the mood by watching Springsteen on Broadway. Hearing about his hometown in Freehold made me think of my hometown in Crosswicks. Mine closer to Philly; his closer to New York; but, Jersey all the same!

Crosswicks, NJ Community House
Christmas at the Community House

(As a side note. How do you know you love your wife? When she convinces you to turn off Springsteen on Broadway to watch Secret Santa on Wheel of Fortune! Giving up your home state hero for Pat and Vana is surely a sign of love. )

Relegated to my study, I got a beer; put on my best Springsteen; and decided to write about Christmas and Jersey. Here are four of my favorite Christmas memories from my childhood in Crosswicks, New Jersey! Like the Saturday Live skit from the other week, featured here https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4WvwX18oMR4 , Christmas memories are better upon reflection and a glass of wine (and some Springsteen).

  1. The Community House Tree. Crosswicks is a historical town where much history happened. Indeed, George Washington launched his famous Christmas time raids on Trenton and crossing the Delaware from his headquarters at the Quaker Community House in Crosswicks. This history is all fine and good but my favorite memory is from personal history. Each Christmas, the citizens of Crosswicks would light up a large Christmas tree on the grounds of the Community House and sing Christmas songs and drink hot apple cider. For that day, the rivalry between the Black Sox and Red Sox baseball teams would be buried by the tree near the baseball field with voices of joy!
  2. Hoping the club doesn’t come to your house first! My Dad worked as a Steelworker and Union Vice President at DeLaval. His friends from work and their families formed a group simply called the Club. The Club would make the rounds to each family’s house on Christmas. We mostly loved playing with all the kids. Except of course, if you were the first house on the tour. Being the first house on the tour was dreaded because it was when all the kids were really wound up and wanted to play with your new Christmas toys. Wound up kids on Christmas equals broken toys. One sad Christmas, we were the first on the tour. We were excited about our new Evil Knievel motorcycle and track. You would pump the motorcycle with air and it would fly off the track. It was our most prized toy until Jimmy and Kimmey got a hold of it. They pumped it so full of air that Evil and the motorcycle broke after flying a record 10 feet in the air. Much like the real Evil could not jump Snake River canyon, our toy could not make it 10 minutes with the kids from the Club!
  3. Granpop’s Christmas train. My Grandpop grew up in the depression, so he was careful with his money. One of his best cost saving ventures was to buy Ribbon Candy after Christmas at quarter price and put it out the next year! He may have saved his pennies when buying candy, but not when taking care of his grandkids. One Christmas, we woke up and were brought downstairs to see a fully decorated Lionel train set in the cellar. The excitement of us kids was reflected in the joy of my Grandpop’s face as he passed on his love to a new generation.
  4. Rudolph’s Nose and Dad catching Santa. One of the difficult things each Christmas was keeping my brother David from waking up
    from all his excitement at 2 AM . Me and my brother Gary had a ploy to keep David in the room we shared. Still do not know to this day why it worked and fooled him every year. My Dad used to put plastic on our windows during the Winter to keep in the warmth. Besides keeping out the cold, the plastic also fuzzed up the red light on the radio tower about a mile way enough so we could trick David. Each time when he woke up in the night and said “Is it Christmas, yet? Let’s wake up Dad and Mom! “, Gary and I would point to the red light and say that Rudolph was still flying. Even with that trick we could only contain him until 5 AM. Then we had to wake Mom and Dad. Dad in order to delay us while he was getting his Polaroid camera would say “Santa is still down here” and make some rustling sounds to keep us at bay. Oh how we sat on pins and needles until he gave us the all clear signal.

Well, I see Wheel of Fortune is finally done! I am going to get back to the real Boss and hear more tales of Jersey from the master. I hoped you enjoyed these!