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Holidays

Photo by Donna Newman

St. James R.C. Church, 429 Route 25A, Setauket invites the community to experience the beauty and wonder of its traditional Neopolitan Nativity scenes, courtesy of Rev. Gerald Cestare, every day through Jan. 13 from 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. (except Christmas Eve/Day and New Year’s Eve). 

Celebrating its 30th anniversary, this year’s display, located once again in the Parish Center, contains thousands of figures, buildings and miniatures; even if you have seen this display in the past, there is always something new! Fr. Jerry invites everyone to share in this wonderful depiction of the true gift of Christmas, a tradition handed down to him from his grandfather. Free event. Call 631-941-4141.

By Barbara Beltrami

What kind of a food columnist would I be if I didn’t write about Christmas cookies every December? And what kind of a Scrooge would you be if you didn’t bake or at least intend to bake Christmas cookies every year? There are times when tradition rules, when you do certain things because you’ve always done them, because your mother and before that your grandmother have always done them and to not do them would be sacrilege. And there is nothing like gathering the kids in the kitchen and making it a tradition that they’ll carry on when it’s their turn. 

So here are some uber traditional Christmas cookie recipes — three different versions — cut, pressed and dropped — of the sugar cookie. I have no idea where or when they originated. I just know they’ve been the go-to recipes in our family for years and years. All are wonderful on their own, particularly when surreptitiously snatched from the voluptuously mounded cookie platter, and they all go well with tea, coffee, milk, hot chocolate, eggnog or any holiday spirits.

Spritz Cookies (Pressed)

Spritz Cookies

YIELD: Makes about 6 dozen

INGREDIENTS:

2 sticks room temperature unsalted butter

2/3 cup sugar

3 egg yolks

1 teaspoon vanilla or almond extract

2½ cups flour

DIRECTIONS:

Heat oven to 400 F. In a large bowl thoroughly combine butter, sugar, egg yolks and extract. Add flour and work in. Divide dough into quarters and place one quarter at a time into cookie press; using desired shapes, force dough onto ungreased cookie sheets. Bake 7 to 10 minutes until set but not brown. Cool on wire rack 30 minutes and decorate as desired.

Drop Sugar Cookies

Drop Sugar Cookies

YIELD: Makes about 3 dozen

INGREDIENTS:

2 eggs, beaten

2/3 cup vegetable oil

2 teaspoons vanilla

1 teaspoon grated lemon zest (optional)

¾ cup sugar

2 cups flour

2 teaspoons baking powder

½ teaspoon coarse salt

DIRECTIONS:

Heat oven to 400 F. In large bowl, thoroughly combine eggs, oil, vanilla and lemon zest (if using); gradually add sugar and beat until mixture thickens. In another bowl, blend flour, baking powder and salt and incorporate mixture into first one. Drop by teaspoonfuls 2 inches apart on ungreased baking sheet, flatten each mound with bottom of glass dipped in sugar. Bake 8 to 10 minutes. Cool immediately on wire rack. Decorate as desired. 

Classic Sugar Cookie Cut Outs

YIELD: Makes 4 to 5 dozen

INGREDIENTS:

1½ cups confectioners’ sugar

2 sticks unsalted butter

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

½ teaspoon almond extract

1 egg

2½ cups flour

1 teaspoon baking soda

1 teaspoon cream of tartar

DIRECTIONS:

In a large bowl thoroughly combine sugar, butter, vanilla and almond extracts and egg. In another bowl, combine flour, baking soda and cream of tartar; then stir that mixture into first one. Cover and refrigerate 4 hours or more. 

Heat oven to 375 F. Divide dough in half and roll out each half to ¼-inch thick on lightly floured cloth-covered surface. Cut cookies and place on ungreased cookie sheets and bake 7 to 8 minutes until light brown. Cool on rack 30 minutes, then decorate as desired. 

Gather unused dough into a ball and refrigerate or place in freezer to chill; then repeat roll out procedure. 

Stock photo

By Leah Dunaief

Leah Dunaief

The conversation in a New Jersey classroom of first-graders got around to the subject of Christmas, and the substitute teacher unleashed a bombshell. She told them that Santa isn’t real, that parents just buy presents and put them under a tree. On a roll, she didn’t stop there. Reindeer can’t fly, she advised the students, elves are not real, the elf on the shelf is just a doll that parents move around, there is no tooth fairy and no Easter bunny, either. She summed up with the news that there is no magic anything and that magic doesn’t exist. Whoa!

This made the top of the news earlier this week for CBS, NBC, Fox, USA Today and other major news outlets. No one, as far as I know, has interviewed the children to get their reactions, but the school superintendent and the principal were moved to speak, as the district apologized to the parents.

Montville superintendent of schools, Rene Rovtar, was “troubled and disheartened by the incident.” Cedar Hill Elementary School principal, Michael Raj, sent home a message to the parents in which he mentioned the “poor judgment” of the teacher and asked parents to “take appropriate steps to maintain the childhood innocence of the holiday season.” At least one parent, Lisa Simek, took to Facebook, expressing dismay. She urged that Christmas magic is real and expressed through acts of kindness, love, positivity and grace — from and for loved ones and strangers. The superintendent added, “The childhood wonder associated with all holidays and traditions is something I personally hold near and dear in my own heart.”

We don’t know how the children reacted, but we certainly know how upset the adults are. And we have not been told if the teacher will be allowed to substitute again. How should we react to this?

On the one hand, we know that the idea of Santa Claus brings joy and excitement to children and therefore to the adults around them. This is hardly innocence exploited by adults but rather an opportunity for adults each to be Santa, to be their best, most generous, most loving selves. While the person of Santa is a fiction, the embodiment of all that Santa stands for most surely is not. Fictional characters can provide inspiration for the lifetime of a child as he or she grows up. Intergenerational mythmaking exists in many contexts, not only to entertain but also to inspire.

Children sooner or later catch on, especially when they see 20 Santas walking down the street together on their return from their Salvation Army posts. But on the other hand, how do children feel when they realize the adults around them have told them untruths? If they go to school expecting to believe what they are taught there, should the teacher acquiesce in mythmaking? For sure, this teacher handled the situation with poor judgment. It would have been far better for her and the children had she told them to ask their parents about the magic of Santa. For whatever reason, she did not do that.

How did you feel when, as a child, you learned that Santa was a story made up by the adults closest to you? Did you understand the greater good embodied in the concept or were you left to distrust on some level whatever those adults might subsequently tell you? Does misleading a child bring psychological questions into play?

It did not negatively affect Virginia O’Hanlon, who asked that question of her father when she was 8 years old in 1897. She said the answer inspired her for the rest of her long life. Her dad told her to write to The Sun, a prominent New York City newspaper, and added, “If you see it in The Sun, it’s so.” The Sun’s hard-bitten, cynical editor, Francis Pharcellus Church, wrote the answer that turned into the most reprinted editorial over the next century in the English-speaking world: “Yes, Virginia, there is a Santa Claus.”

The Heritage Center Trust hosted its 11th annual tree lighting Dec. 2 at Heritage Park in Mount Sinai, drawing a crowd of several hundred who were ready to celebrate the breakout of the Christmas season.

The Mount Sinai Middle School Jazz Choir led the crowd in classic Christmas carols before fire trucks of the Mount Sinai Fire Department drove in with lights flashing, delivering Santa himself to the expectant crowd.

After the tree lighting, attendees were able to eat fresh baked cookies and kids had the opportunity to sit on Santa’s lap and take pictures.

The annual tree lighting at Heritage Park has been a part of the Mount Sinai community since 2007, but Jaime Baldassare, who volunteers for the center trust, said the lighting was a staple in the community before the Heritage Center Trust was established, first being hosted at the post office and later at the Mount Sinai Fire Department building.

The threat of rain may have dampened activities, but hundreds bundled up to watch the 9th annual Huntington Holiday Parade Nov. 24.

Huntington Town officials called off the afternoon festivities as weather forecasters predicted a freezing rain would start sometime in the afternoon. Supervisor Chad Lupinacci (R) decreed the parade would happen, rain or shine.

Luckily umbrellas were not needed as highly decorated floats and parade marchers proceeded from the Big H Shopping Center on New York Avenue to Main Street, winding its way along West Neck Road, east on Gerard Street before ending on Wall Street for the annual tree lighting.  The most anticipate, at least by children, were Santa Claus and Mrs. Claus who arrived in Huntington Village at the end of the parade.

Click through the photos above to see the photos from the festive performance and parade. 

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I may be conflating two holidays, but this year, I’m thankful for love. Yes, I recognize that Valentine’s Day is a few months away.

I’m not just talking about romantic love between two people who laugh, plan and enjoy building a life together while dealing with the inevitable chaos and curveballs.

No, I’m talking about the kind of love that makes a cold, wet day manageable. We recently added a puppy to our home. We brought this new furry creature into our lives because we were moving and it seemed liked a way to add something to our house that would be ours in a new setting.

It also seemed to be a way to enhance our ability to socialize with our neighbors. Who, after all, can resist a cute puppy bounding down the street? Well, as it turns out, almost everyone, particularly on unexpectedly cooler days in a city that was supposed to be much warmer. Sure, people wave through their gloves and smile behind the wheel, but no one has stopped to ask if he or she can pet the little fella. No one has asked his age, his name or where we got him.

But, hey, this isn’t about love for our neighbors, although I suspect over time we may come to love the distance we have from everyone or, on the bright side, a friendship that may seem inevitable after we meet other people eager to connect with those living nearby.

No, this is about that moment when I open the door to the puppy’s room and he greets me with a tail moving so quickly that it could generate enough electricity to power the house for the day.

As we and our kids get older, the excitement at greeting each other after absences, even for a few hours or a day, left the arena of unbridled joy. Sure, we’re delighted to see each other, but the squeal with delight moments have morphed into understated greetings and subtle head nods that don’t displace carefully coiffed hair.

We can also love the moments our senses pick up a familiar signal. That could be the scent of a pumpkin pie wafting across the living room, sending us back to our childhood when we visited with extended family that has long ago moved away. It could be the sound of our children practicing an instrument with such dexterity that the end of the composition brings both pride and sadness as the intricate sound has given way to silence.

It could also be an appreciation for a warm, crackling fire late on a cold day as the winter sunset turns the light outside a deep orange, contrasting with the yellow hue near the sizzling logs.

This is also the incredible season of anticipation, as we love the prospect of seeing people we haven’t seen in person in weeks, months or years. We can love the expectation of seeing their faces, sharing stories, taking long walks on quiet roads or windy beaches, as we tell tales about everything from the miraculous to the mundane in intersecting lives interrupted by time and distance.

As well, we can love the gift of time with each other, on our own or without particular commitment.

Then again, we can love a positive result at work, if we’ve sold the unsellable property, finally checked something off a to-do list that seemed to be festering forever, or found some unexpected result in a lab that may one day lead to a treatment for an insidious or life-depriving disease.

We are a thinking species, which ruminates over the past, contemplates the present and ponders the future. We are also blessed with the power of love, as Huey Lewis and the News sang in 1985. It’s still a powerful thing, even 33 years later.

The holidays are just about here again, and before panicking about buying gifts, consider a unique, first time event slated for Setauket called.

TBR News Media is hosting Retail Lives, a private shopping experience Tuesday, Nov. 13, at The Bates House, located at 1 Bates Road in Setauket, at which local retailers and service-based businesses will set up booths to offer attendees a chance to knock out some holiday shopping early, and all in one place. The event will feature discounts on certain products and services as well as prewrapped items ideal for gift giving.

“We are going to have a wonderful, select group of local retailers who have decided to join us,” said Evelyn Costello, TBR News Media event planner and organizer of the first incarnation of the event, which will also be live streamed on tbrnewsmedia.com. “It’s a real community feel event.”

Publisher Leah Dunaief shed light on the thinking behind putting together the experience.

“We very much want to support the retail businesses in our communities,” she said. “They are the backbones of our villages in the sense of places to go when we need support for the Little League, or the Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts, the musical groups. They are, physically, the center of our towns. It’s the stores that make the physical presence. We want to help them to stay in business against the mammoth Amazon and other businesses that are threatening their existence.”

The event is sponsored by The Bates House, Simple Party Designs, Empire Tent Rental & Event Planning and Elegant Eating. It will feature retailers and businesses Ecolin Jewelers, Hardts and Flowers, DazzleBar, Blue Salon & Spa, East Wind, North Fork Fire, The Ward Melville Heritage Organization, Chocolate Works, Three Village Historical Society, East End Shirt Co., Signs by All Seasons, Nicole Eliopoulos of State Farm and The Rinx.

For more information contact Costello by phone 516-909-5171 or by email at ec@tbrnewsmedia.com.

Words are the symphony that warms the skin and colors the silence.

Words can be like the sound of reinforcements coming over the horizon when we feel penned down by an adversary. They rescue us just as we use them to swaddle others in their warmth.

As we make the transition from Halloween to Thanksgiving, Black Friday and, eventually, the December holidays and the new year, we can take solace in the anticipation of words that provide warmth through the darker days of winter.

We might take a trip to Central Park, where the sound of sleigh bells from carriages around a corner alerts us to the appearance of an approaching horse, even as the animal might remind us of a city that predated internal combustion engines.

Just the words “sleigh ride” might inspire our minds to play a song we performed in high school.

Words can also convey the remarkable scents of the coming seasons, with the air carrying the mouthwatering Pavlovian cue from gingerbread houses or holiday cookies.

I recently attended a wedding where a few well-chosen words triggered an almost immediate and reflexive “awww” from an audience delighted to hear how much a younger brother was inspired by his older brother, the groom.

Reading about how important our coat donations are can inspire us to rummage through our closets to help a child or an adult become more comfortable in the frigid air.

Well-chosen words can provide the kind of environment that empowers people to see and appreciate everything from the inspirational image of a person overcoming physical limitations to the intricate beauty of a well-woven spiderweb shimmering in the low light of winter.

Sometimes, as when a friend or family member is going through a significant medical procedure or crisis, words or prayer or encouragement are all we have to offer, giving us something to do or say as we hope the words provide even a scintilla of comfort.

Words can feel insufficient to express how we feel or what we hope happens when someone who has been in the foreground of our lives for years seems suddenly vulnerable.

Simple tools which we all take for granted, words can take us to a peaceful beach with the sound of water lapping on the coarse sand under our feet, transporting our minds and bodies away from the cacophony of busy lives.

In big moments, athletes often suggest that they are at a loss for words. In reality, their words and emotions are undergoing so much competition that their brain experiences a word bottleneck, with a flow of ideas and words awaiting the chance to dive from the tip of their tongues to the eager ears of their friends, family and fans.

The coming holiday season is filled with diametrically opposed experiences, as the joy of opening presents and reconnecting with friends and family for the first time in months or even a year is counterbalanced by the stress and strain of those people who feel overwhelmed or alone.

People who work at suicide hotlines or as 911 operators can and do use critical words to save people’s lives, bringing their minds back from the brink, restoring hope and offering a comforting verbal lifeline.

We take words for granted because we see and hear them so often, but the right word at the right time can transcend the routine.

Finding words that resonate is akin to strolling into a restaurant and discovering a combination of familiar and exotic flavors, all mixed together with a palate-pleasing texture that energizes us.

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When we have visitors, we like to show off our neighborhoods. We take our guests to the beaches to admire the beautiful shoreline and we bring them to our villages to enjoy restaurants and shops. But some stores have been forced to close largely because so much shopping now takes place on the internet.

The owners and managers of stores that remain have learned that they must do more than in the past to attract customers. That is true of malls, department stores and especially smaller retail shops. To compete with the convenient internet, they have to offer an appealing experience for the consumer to visit them.

We are proud of our downtowns and want to publicize their efforts to attract business, especially for their best season before the holidays. To provide a local shopping event and a fun experience, we have arranged a private holiday treat at the Bates House opposite the Emma Clark Library in Setauket. Hometown stores and services from Huntington, Cold Spring Harbor, Northport, Smithtown, St. James, Stony Brook, Setauket-East Setauket, Port Jefferson, Port Jefferson Station, Mount Sinai, Miller Place, Rocky Point, Sound Beach, Shoreham, Wading River, Centereach, Selden and Lake Grove will feature their offerings at this charming venue for our local residents. Those who come out to enjoy this showcase will find a discount of 20 percent for some products and services.

Shoppers will be exposed to neighbors and friends as they sample community gatherings. Business owners will look to demonstrate what’s new for the holidays, from products or services to gift certificates and one-time discounts.

To make the occasion more delightful, there will be dessert bites from Elegant Eating and prosecco wine provided by TBR News Media/Times Beacon Record as a treat for shoppers, who will attend free.

Those businesses who are participating will enjoy a discounted rate at the gala in addition to their advertising in our holiday book, “Time for Giving.” They will also have advertising on our internet website and social media, including Facebook, Twitter and Instagram. Furthermore, we will have spot interviews with each exhibitor and streaming live video throughout the event on Facebook on Tuesday, Nov. 13, from 5:30-8:30 pm. For further information, please turn to the large ad in our Arts & Lifestyles section in the center of the newspapers. also see our website and social media.

We will be proud to feature our private holiday shopping experience and hope you will, too. Please join us.

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Santa visits Stony Brook via helicopter in the 1950s.

Santa Claus will make his annual journey from the North Pole to drop off gifts to kids around the world this weekend, but before he does that, take a look back at a visit he paid to Stony Brook in the 1950s.

Ditching his sleigh for a helicopter, Santa landed on the Stony Brook Village Green and proceeded to the Stony Brook Fire Department to greet children.

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