BY HEATHER DUBIN | Light snow only added to the holiday mood on Sunday for the 22nd annual tree-lighting at Tompkins Square Park. Many neighborhood residents and local vendors came together to celebrate the season, and participate in a tradition sponsored by the Tompkins Square Park Neighborhood Coalition.
There was caroling led by actors in Shakespearean costume from the Theater for the New City, with musical accompaniment by the Mandel & Lydon Trio on trombone, guitar and piano. A crowd of about 300, adults and children alike, sipped hot chocolate with marshmallows, and cider, compliments of Veselka restaurant.
Albert Fabozzi, president of the Tompkins Square Park Neighborhood Coalition, began the tree-lighting ritual 22 years ago in honor of Glenn Barnett, his late partner, who died of AIDS. The couple were together for 18 years, and Barnett was an advocate of the park for the community. The anniversary of his death was Sunday.
“I think my boyfriend would be very happy if he was alive today to see this,” Fabozzi said.
Fabozzi, who lives on E. Seventh St., has been an East Village denizen for 30 years, and was chairperson of Community Board 3 in 1992 when the eight-foot evergreen was planted. The tree now rises more than 30 feet tall.
“This is my home, this is my family,” he said. “I fought to renovate the park. It was a battle — believe me, I had police protection.”
Fabozzi’s efforts have paid off, and Tompkins Square Park has evolved into a beautiful and vibrant place for everyone in the community to enjoy.
“Every year I worry about the weather,” he said. “It rains, it snows, and we still get a crowd. It’s very happy, it’s the neighborhood.”
Rain did not deter locals at last year’s event, and the frigid, snowy weather this past Sunday was not a showstopper either.
The Carolers of Olde New York energized the crowd with “Jingle Bells,” “Deck the Halls” and “Feliz Navidad,” and everyone sang along.
“The spirit is so incredible,” Fabozzi said.
Albert Fabozzi handing out raffle tickets to Melanie Kletter and her two daughters, Julia and Layla, at the tree-lighting event. Photo by HEATHER DUBIN
Heather Mihalic and her husband, Reid Betz, live on 14th St., and attended with their two children, ages two and four.
“This is our second year,” she said. “I love this, it’s such a cute neighborhood thing. It’s so much easier than going Uptown for the Rockefeller tree.”
Mihalic also applauded the event’s coordinators, and was elated about the weather.
“It’s snow, it’s Christmas,” she added.
Melanie Kletter, another neighborhood resident, from Avenue C, was with her two daughters, Julia, three and a half, and Layla Ferrara, one and a half. Although they have lived in the East Village for six years, the family has never witnessed the tree-lighting.
A friend tipped Kletter off this year.
“We’re in the park all the time and we like to do things in the neighborhood,” she said. “It’s a fun way to be outside.
Michael Bailey traveled from where he lives in Murray Hill to see the tree.
“Albert really promotes this, and I’m happy to come support him,” he said of Fabozzi.
“Cher isn’t there,” Bailey said, as he nodded toward the performers. “But there are a lot of people here. It’s not about a big headliner. It’s a nice event that brings the community together.”
As the snow picked up speed, Bailey speculated that there might be a white Christmas this year. Nearby, Fabozzi was busily distributing raffle tickets to children. Dinosaur Hill, the local kids’ clothing and toy store, donated $25 gift certificates for the occasion. Fabozzi noted that he gave out more raffle tickets this year than ever before.
The annual tree-lighting occurs on Sunday during the second week of December, and the tree remains lit until the end of January.
“My biggest joy is when I plug in the tree,” Fabozzi said.