History says the fire broke out in the bell tower of Saint Nicholas Church in Brooklyn on the 18th of November 1866. As the east side engulfed in inferno and no rescue squads could get to the burning building fast enough, St. Nick managed to jump to safety.
But there was a six-month delay in his return. Though the Local 842 of the Marine Volunteer Association had been called to the scene, they could not reach it as the blaze spread rapidly. Luckily two rifles and an ingenious three man military advance party was able to get to the church just before it was burned to the ground. The Reverend Whittier at an evacuation prayer service in nearby Brooklyn Heights was brought out to meet the 3-man advance party. He quickly pronounced himself in command.
Among those who thought they would be able to fight the Santa Claus Parade were the 15 newly-minted members of the New York chapter of the American Legion. Unable to get sufficient supplies from their headquarters, the group built a stage made from a trailer. They also built a dozen light-weight floats that were placed in the street on Broadway between New and Sixth avenues, and Seventh and Eighth avenues.
Sadly, those floats did not prove to be sufficient. The parade would be rained off in early December. The Legionnaires who had created the stage and lights were forced to scramble for reinforcements. So they were given orders to pick up captured German Wehrmacht prisoners in the East Village and transport them to Brooklyn.
I believe that if it had not been for their determination and stoicism I would not be writing about the parade this year. But unfortunately what happened during and after the parade meant that many parents who were unable to attend or enjoy the parade were reminded of the existence of Santa Claus throughout the holiday season.
Looking at the current situation with the protest by the mosque at 49th Street and Park Avenue, what used to be a one-time event has become a fixture of Christmas traditions.
Perhaps those of us who have no love of Christmas or seasonal festivities would better afford ourselves the rest of the year by learning to appreciate the celebrations that comprise the holiday season. Let’s do what we can to cheerfully accept and share these traditions in the spirit of the spirit in which we celebrate them.
Terry Jeffords has been a longtime resident of the New York City area.