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Editor's Voice: A true Christmas story

Posted 11/19/13

The story of Middletown’s Christmas tradition, like many other Christmas stories, has a happy ending. It’s a story about generosity, and the goodness in the hearts of men and women, which blossomed through a morass of severe government budget …

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Editor's Voice: A true Christmas story

Posted

The story of Middletown’s Christmas tradition, like many other Christmas stories, has a happy ending. It’s a story about generosity, and the goodness in the hearts of men and women, which blossomed through a morass of severe government budget cuts and union posturing – not unlike the Jimmy Stewart film, “It’s a Wonderful Life,’’ where, in the end, we appreciate what we have.

Middletown had a sweet tradition of decorating Hoffer Park, a borough park, with lights and holiday decorations. Santa Claus held court in a shelter amid the sparkling lights and shiny bulbs, to the delight of countless children. It was a display that drew hundreds of visitors each December, a practice that made Middletown a little quainter, a little warmer, a little more special than other towns.

But the borough cancelled the tradition this year, citing legal action by the union that represents some borough employees. Borough Council, it appears, was determined to cut borough expenses to the bone to reduce the price of electricity it sells to residents and businesses for revenue, and stopped the practice of paying employees to set up the display.

The borough envisioned a group of volunteers doing the work instead to save money – and, indeed, volunteers had helped employees set up the display in the past.

The union objected, filing an unresolved grievance that, according to borough officials, demands compensation to borough employees for every volunteer who hung Christmas lights, bulbs and wreathes last year.

The town’s Christmas tradition became a tangled mess.

You could search for someone to blame, if that is how you want to look at the problem. Was our frugal Borough Council so caught up in slicing government expenses to the bone that it couldn’t find money, or raise revenue, to fund such a wonderful Christmas tradition? It certainly would be a good idea to have borough employees, at the very least, supervise the decorations and make sure things were plugged in, or built, safely. How much could the overtime cost?

And the Teamsters, the employees’ union, could have found a better way to protect their members than its unreasonable request for compensation. If the union is intent on protecting its members from uncompensated, forced overtime, that is a fine cause; but their grievance seems like a heavy-handed attempt to force the borough to negotiate the matter. Certainly there is a more reasonable path to take.

 

Amid all this, something wonderful happened: A group of residents joined together to bring Christmas to Middletown. A committee of citizens, under the auspices of the Middletown Area Historical Society, collected decorations from residents, and convinced a local business, Shull’s Tree Service, to donate a hemlock tree. Mayor-elect James Curry obtained a donation of lights from Lowe’s, and a Christmas display will be set up at the Society’s Ferry House grounds at Ann and South Union streets. The tree is already decorated – a tree-lighting ceremony is set for Saturday, Nov. 30, and Santa Claus will appear that day among lights and bulbs. In another attempt to bring a Christmas tradition to town, the Press And Journal will sponsor a free showing of “How the Grinch Stole Christmas,’’ starring Jim Carrey, at the Elks Theatre – and a visit by Santa, brought to the theater by the Middletown Volunteer Fire Department – on Saturday, Dec. 7.

The Society’s Christmas display might not be as large as the one that transformed Hoffer Park into a Christmas wonderland. But its humble origins and its sincere desire to bring joy to the town magnify the compassion behind it.

When you look upon the display, think of how it came to be. Appreciate it for the gift it is. We are lucky to have such neighbors who would give their time and effort to bring a little joy to our world. 

   

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