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Christmas

Toys collected by Exit Realty Island Elite
Photo from EXIT Eealty Island Elite

In gratitude for the support shown to EXIT Realty Island Elite by the local community, the real estate brokerage recently started collecting toys for the RONALD MCDONALD HOUSE and GIVE KIDS HOPE INC. charities for Jackson’s Toys Drive.

Before he lost his fight to cancer, Jackson asked his mother about whether the children spending their holidays in the hospital received gifts. He believed that no child should go without… that gift-giving was part of the healing process, a way to brighten up their stay and give them hope. Ever since, his mother has worked tirelessly to give throughout Long Island.

“We are proud to be partnered again with JACKSON’S TOY DRIVE, so that we can keep Jackson’s dream alive. The  support of the  local community has been phenonemal.  This year we  will have collected hundreds of toys! That will make a big difference during these challenging times ,” says Jason Furnari, Broker/Owner of EXIT Realty Island Elite located at 4699 Nesconset Highway, Suite 2, in Port Jefferson Station.  For more information, call 631-331-4000 or visit  www.EXITRealtyIslandElite.com.

Town of Brookhaven's Youth Bureau head Josephine Lunde, along with Centereach resident and matriarch of the donation drive EJ's PJs Patricia Poggi stand among the hundreds of pajamas donated for children who need them. Photo from Poggi

Ten years on, and a Centereach family and friends are still donating pajamas for kids to warm themselves during the holiday months. This year, despite the pandemic, has been their biggest drive yet.

Hundreds of pajamas were donated to the Town of Brookhaven’s INTERFACE program to help give kids that warm holiday feeling on these cold nights. Photo from Patricia Poggi

The Centereach Poggi family, which includes mom Patricia and her three sons, started EJ’s PJs in 2011 when the mother’s brother asked her two older sons, Edward and Jeremy, to find a charity to donate to instead of giving them gifts. 

“Because we always wore ‘Poggi plaid’ pajamas on Christmas morning, we came up with the concept to start our own pajama drive so that clouds would be able to feel warm, comfy and cozy and have a fresh pair or brand new pajamas feeling,” Patricia Poggi said.

Her youngest son, Patrick, was 1-years-old when it got started, and now he is 11, having grown up participating in the drive.

At first, their drive included just a single bin on the front porch of the Poggi residence, but now with the support of many local shops throughout Brookhaven, EJ’s PJs has ramped up to include 22 drop off boxes all throughout the town. 

Last year, I started getting into a few businesses to help us in hopes that our 10th year would get us to our highest and it did,” Patricia Poggi said.

Jeremy Poggi, a student at Centereach High School, helped facilitate work with one of the school clubs to generate extra donations. 

“This year was easily our biggest year,” he said. 

And in a year of COVID, when more and more people are struggling financially, such generosity is felt even moreso.

“We are thankful for the support of our new and existing partners who are committed to make this 10th year our biggest pajama drive yet,” Messina wrote in an email. “In a year where the world has been turned upside down, we are grateful to be able to do our small part with the community’s assistance to provide a warm and cozy pair of pajamas to children and teens in need.”

METRO photo

By Barbara Beltrami

In case you haven’t noticed, the ongoing theme of my recent columns has been coping with and compensating for COVID restrictions while celebrating the holidays. So here I go again. I believe that whether you’re alone or with just your immediate family (and I do hope for your sake and everyone else’s that it won’t be more than that), you should make the holiday as merry as you can. 

A great way to do that for Christmas Eve or Christmas dinner is to carry out the red and green theme in as many dishes as possible. It doesn’t have to be fancy, but it does have to be festive. I’m thinking that spinach lasagna rollups might do the trick paired with a butter lettuce and arugula salad with bell pepper confetti and a pomegranate vinaigrette. Then for dessert, how about a parfait of pistachio or mint chocolate chip ice cream with fresh raspberry sauce? These are just a few ideas. Raid your refrigerator, shop early and come up with your own red and green Christmas dishes.

Spinach Lasagna Rollups

YIELD: Makes 6 servings

INGREDIENTS: 

For the sauce:

2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil

1 cup finely chopped onion

Salt and freshly ground pepper to taste

2 garlic cloves, minced

One 28-ounce can crushed tomatoes

1/4 cup chopped basil

Salt and pepper to taste

For the rollups:

Nonstick cooking spray

12 lasagna noodles (not no-boil)

One 16-ounce container ricotta cheese

Half a 10-ounce box frozen chopped spinach, thawed and all liquid squeezed out

3/4 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese

1 large egg

1 handful fresh Italian flat-leaf parsley leaves, chopped

Salt and freshly ground pepper to taste

3 cups(or more) tomato sauce to taste

1 cup shredded mozzarella

DIRECTIONS: 

In a medium saucepan warm oil over medium heat; add onions, salt and pepper and cook, stirring frequently, until they become transparent, about 5 minutes. Add garlic and cook, stirring frequently, until it releases its aroma, about 30 seconds. Add tomatoes, basil, salt and pepper and a few tablespoons water and cook over medium heat, stirring frequently, until sauce is thickened and liquid is evaporated, about 15 minutes.

Preheat oven to 350 F; coat a shallow baking pan with nonstick cooking spray. Cook lasagna noodles according to package directions and drain, then lay out in baking pan.

In a medium bowl thoroughly combine the ricotta, spinach, Parmesan cheese, egg, parsley, salt and pepper. Spread a thin layer of tomato sauce on bottom of baking pan spread ricotta mixture evenly along each noodle, then top with a thin layer of tomato sauce and carefully roll up; place seam side down evenly in baking dish and spoon remaining sauce over them. Sprinkle mozzarella on top. Bake until they are heated through, sauce is bubbly and mozzarella has melted, about 20 minutes. Serve hot with arugula and butter lettuce salad.

Arugula and Butter Lettuce Salad with Pomegranate Vinaigrette

YIELD: Makes 6 servings

INGREDIENTS: 

1 large bunch arugula, washed and stems removed

1head butter lettuce or Boston lettuce

6 radishes, cleaned and cut into matchstick-size strips

1/2 cup fresh or bottled pomegranate juice

1/4 cup red wine vinegar

1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar

2 to 3 tablespoons honey

1 teaspoon prepared mustard

Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste

Seeds from half a pomegranate

1/2 green bell pepper, seeded and finely diced

1/2 red bell pepper, seeded and finely diced

DIRECTIONS: 

In a large salad bowl, toss together the arugula, lettuce and radishes. In a small mixing bowl, whisk together the pomegranate juice, vinegars, honey, mustard, and salt and pepper. Just before serving, toss the salad with the dressing, then sprinkle with pomegranate seeds and diced peppers. Serve immediately at room temperature with lasagna rollups.

Fresh Raspberry Sauce

YIELD: Makes 1 1/2 cups

INGREDIENTS: 

3/4 pound fresh raspberries, picked over

2 tablespoons sugar or to taste

1/2 tablespoon water

1 tablespoon freshly squeezed lemon juice

DIRECTIONS: 

In a medium saucepan over medium heat, combine the berries, sugar, water and lemon juice. Stirring frequently, cook until sugar dissolves, raspberries fall apart and sauce bubbles, about 5 minutes. Remove from heat and press through a fine mesh strainer to remove seeds. Cool to room temperature, cover and refrigerate or serve warm over pistachio or mint chocolate chip ice cream accompanied by Christmas cookies.

METRO photo

By Fr. Francis Pizzarelli

Father Frank Pizzarelli

This year will truly be one to remember; not because of any extraordinary achievement, but rather it was a year when the world almost stopped and millions of people died around the world because of COVID-19.

In our country alone, more than 1/4 of a million people have senselessly lost their lives. Every day we are breaking a record for people dying from the coronavirus.

Thanksgiving was celebrated in ways that most of us never imagined. So many families had empty plates at their table representing loved ones that could not come home and loved ones who have passed because of the virus. Unfortunately, some people did not heed the recommendations for gathering on Thanksgiving to keep all of us safe. As we prepare for Christmas, the virus is surging.

Christmas time is supposed to be a season where we celebrate renewed hope and gratitude for all the many gifts and blessings we’ve received. We give thanks for all the people who have blessed our life. The Christmas season is always marked with an energy that is transformative.

This year Christmas is going to be very different. However, we really should take pause and give thanks in the midst of all the suffering and struggle for the countless gifts and blessings each of us have. It’s a time to stay focused and mindful of what we have in this present moment. It’s a time to give not out of our excess but out of our need. It’s a time to welcome the stranger as a friend and brother or sister. It’s a time for making peace, healing fractured relationships and building new bridges that cross over troubled waters.

This Christmas season provides us a powerful opportunity to join hands and give voice to the voiceless, to work for social justice and respect for all God’s people, no matter who they are or where they are. This time of year is an opportunity to support the dignity and respect of every human person.

In the midst of our fear and anxiety, this holiday season is a powerful moment to renew and affirm the people and relationships that are most important in our lives. It’s an opportunity to reach out to those that we’ve become distant from and reconnect.

This Christmas marks my 40th Christmas in Port Jefferson. So much has happened from my first days as a young parish priest at Infant Jesus. My life has been so blessed and enriched by the countless people I have been privileged to know and work with. The collaborative spirit and compassion in our village that transcends religious traditions and socioeconomic profiles has inspired me and helped me to stay the course all these years. The work that I’ve been able to do is in large measure thanks to the generosity and love from so many.

Thousands of broken young men are whole raising their own families, making positive contributions to our larger community and giving back in countless ways. All of that has happened and continues to happen because of your generosity, your courage and your power of example.

This Christmas I am grateful for the countless miracles I have witnessed every day for 40 years and for the collaborative spirit on the part of so many that have contributed to the transformation of so many wounded and broken people. Thank you for helping to renew my hope. I am forever grateful. Christmas blessings!

Fr. Pizzarelli, SMM, LCSW-R, ACSW, DCSW, is the director of Hope House Ministries in Port Jefferson.

Michael Johnston has been decking his car with holiday cheer since he was 16. Photo by Julianne Mosher

Driving along Route 25A, you might have seen a boxy vehicle decked out in lights. Candy canes stick out from its top alongside green garland. 

The Long Island Holiday Jeep has been seen throughout Port Jefferson, near Stony Brook University, and even out into Huntington. Every holiday season, Michael Johnston joins dozens of other people on the road, decorating their vehicles as part of a group called The Christmas Convoy.

The 19-year-old Setauket resident said he began decorating cars before he was even able to drive, at age 16 with his father. 

“This year I went all out because it was such a depressing year,” he said. 

Usually his Jeep Renegade has about 2,000 lights on it, he said. This year he added 3,000 more. 

“It’s just fun to do,” he said. “It’s fun to get reactions from people and everyone loves it … other than some cops.”

The Holiday Jeep lit up at night. Photo from Michael Johnston

Unlike some his Convoy-counterparts, Johnston decorates for most holidays. He’s been at the Huntington St. Patrick’s Day Parade adorning green, dazzled with hearts for Valentine’s Day and with Easter Bunny ears placed at his car’s top in the spring. He’s decorated for Thanksgiving and Halloween, but nothing compares to Christmas. 

Johnston is a delivery driver for DoorDash, so he’s always out and about.

“Everyone has a way different reaction,” he said. “Some people scream, they wave, and they ask me questions about it.”

He said he hopes that the bright lights on the road spread some holiday cheer during a rather bleak time. 

For now, he and his holiday Jeep can be spotted all across the North Shore, and eventually, the young man hopes, it might be another vehicle. 

“I actually want to get a new car,” he said. “A Cadillac Escalade.”

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Alexa DeSimone brought her own creativity to bear in crafting her cookie at the Port Jeff Village Center Dec. 5. Photo by Julianne Mosher

It was a sweet day for Port Jefferson children and their families. 

On Saturday, Dec. 5, The Greater Port Jefferson Chamber of Commerce hosted its annual Cookieland event inside the Harbor Cove Room at the Village Center. 

Kids of all ages were each able to decorate two large sugar cookies with sprinkles and icing to celebrate the holiday season. 

“The chamber is encouraging shoppers to come and enjoy our beautifully decorated village,” Barbara Ransome, director of operations with the chamber, said. “We wanted to create a level of normalcy with COVID compliance, mindful of safety and mindful of the holiday spirit we all need.”

Packages of individually wrapped cookie decorating kits at the PJ Chamber Cookieland event. Photo by Julianne Mosher

For $15, La Bonne Boulangerie bakery of Port Jefferson provided the kit, with tickets available for purchase through the chamber’s website. Four tables were spread out throughout the room, with protective barriers between guests. Masks were worn at all times, and proceeds supported the chamber of commerce nonprofit. 

Holbrook resident Andrea DeSimone brought her 8-year-old daughter, Alexa, to decorate the snowman and snowflake-shaped cookies. 

“I figured it would be something fun to do,” she said. “Especially since it’s not nice outside.”

Due to the inclement weather on Saturday, a socially distanced visit from Santa surprised families inside the room, instead of the originally planned photo opportunity outside with his sleigh.

Alexa was thrilled to play with the provided decorations.

“My favorite thing is putting on the frosting and getting it all over my hands,” she said with a laugh. “I’m having so much fun today.”

Families who missed out can still get tickets for the next two events on Dec. 12 and 19, from 1 p.m. until 4 p.m. 

Familia Mendez and family, of Huntington Station, took the trek out to Jones Beach for its annual light show this year. Photo from Mendez

By Angela Palumbo

No matter where one may be on Long Island, there is a drive-thru light show available for you, but make sure to plan some extra time when thinking about attending.

The space above spectators heads glows at the Jones Beach Miracle of Lights display. Photo by Angela Palumbo

Long Islanders are eager to participate in holiday fun, but with the coronavirus pandemic causing the shutdown of many holiday activities, more and more locals are looking for events that are COVID safe and fun for the whole family.

With people turning to holiday light displays to get into the holiday spirit this year, the vast amount of people going to the displays seems to be causing longer wait times than usual.

With the most popular Long Island display being the Jones Beach Magic of Light’s show, normally, hundreds of thousands of people take the trek to Nassau for the colorful, festive experience.

“The $25.00 was well worth the money, especially since it was a safe way to experience some holiday spirit during COVID,” said Christina Seaman Meixsell, from Northport. “It was totally worth it.”

Familia Mendez, from Huntington Station, said she also enjoyed bringing her family to Jones Beach this year.

“We went two years ago to the same show and we decided to go again this year and my kids were thrilled and happy to go,” Mendez said. “The lights and decorations made us feel the feeling of Christmas. They have done an awesome job.”

But is the Jones Beach Magic of Lights display the best option for all Long Islanders? Even with its popularity and success, the Jones Beach show has run into issues this year with longer lines than usual.

Jenna Schmitt from Rockaway, Queens, tried to go to the show on Dec 5, but because of the long line, she and the people she travelled with had to turn around in the middle of waiting.

“We went there at 8:45 p.m. and the opposite side of the parkway was backed up all the way to where the line started,” Schmitt said. “Then, we decided that it wasn’t worth the wait, but we had to sit in an hour and a half of traffic to finally be able to get off of it.”

Because so many people tried to leave the long line, Schmitt said her car never made it to the turnaround, and herself and other cars drove on the grass and took a side street to exit.

Some locals have decided to go to other shows on Long Island that are closer to their homes and less popular to avoid the wait.

One of several light-based creations of the Smith Point Light Show. Photo from Smith Point Light Show website

Alexandra Wasser from Dix Hills prefers the Smith Point Light Show located in Shirley, a smaller display compared to the Jones Beach Magic of Lights Show.

“It brings a jolly mind set to you and it really brings a lot of joy to the Christmas season,” Wasser said. “It’s just a nice way to spend time with family and friends. It’s a quick little bonding holiday activity. It’s great during COVID because you just have to sit in the car and it’s safe.”

The Smith Point Light Show has been a part of the Long Island community for 17 years and is run by the Girl Scouts of Suffolk County and the office of the Suffolk County Executive.

“Planning for the Smith Point Light Show begins in January,” said Tammy Severino, representative of Girl Scouts of Suffolk County. “We work with our light display company to choose our displays for December. We also work closely with the County of Suffolk to ensure all permits and safety measures are in place.”

According to Severino, over 55,000 people attended the Smith Point light show last year. With Long Islanders looking for holiday activities that are COVID safe, event organizers are expecting more people to attend the show than ever before. The Smith Point light show has taken measures to manage potentially longer wait lines than usual.

“Visitors have the choice of pre-purchasing tickets that can be used for any date and time that the show is open, so the option to attend earlier in the week during less-busy times is always available,” Severino said. “Additionally, we have security personnel managing the line and we open a second ticket window on busy nights to facilitate traffic flow into the show.”

Another light show on Long Island is the Riverhead Holiday Light Show, located in Calverton. This show takes place Thursday through Sunday until Dec 21, when it will run every day that week leading up to Dec. 30. Unlike the Magic of Lights show at Jones Beach and the Smith Point Light Show in Shirley, only cars can come through the Riverhead Holiday Light Show, excluding buses and limos.

To avoid long wait times for any of these displays, all of the shows sell tickets in advance and encourage attendees to come during the week.

Angela Palumbo is a Long Island native and recent college graduate from SUNY Cortland with a degree in communications and journalism with a minor in professional writing. Angela is currently studying remotely at the Craig Newmark Graduate School of Journalism for her masters in journalism with a concentration in business and economic reporting. 

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Santa leaves some lasting impressions at the Port Jefferson Station/Terryville Chamber's drive-thru Santa event Dec. 5. Photo by Jeff Kito

It might have been as cold as the North Pole last Saturday, but local chamber and civic volunteers still managed to put on a night full of true holiday spirit.

Over 100 cars packed tight with families and children circled around the parking lot to the Port Jefferson Station/Terryville Chamber-owned train car Dec. 5 for a magical night of a visit to Santa, where kids also had the opportunity to their present wishlists to the big man in red, all postmarked for the North Pole.

Chamber members and other community volunteers struggled in the cold rain throughout the day to put together the nighttime event, but both leaders and volunteers said on seeing the expression on childrens’ faces, the effort was well worth it.

The event also contained both a food and toy drive. Multiple bags stuffed with food were donated to St. Gerard Majella R.C. Church’s food pantry, while a large box full of toys was given to the Town of Brookhaven INTERFACE program.

Photo from Vanderbilt Museum

The Suffolk County Vanderbilt Museum in Centerport is looking once again for a local family that can donate one of its own trees for this year’s Tree Lighting celebration. It must be local, from family property, and from 30 to 35 feet tall. Last year, a Centereach family donated a 40-foot tree that 30 years earlier had been a live spruce purchased as the family’s first Christmas tree.

Since 1987, the Vanderbilt has placed a very large tree in the Mansion Courtyard and decorated it for the holidays. Every year, the Museum has invited the community to join the staff on the Saturday after Thanksgiving, to light the tree and inaugurate the holiday season. This very popular community event draws several hundred people every year. (This year, to allow for social distancing, the tree will be set up on the Great Lawn of the Vanderbilt Mansion.)

The donor will be acknowledged on a sign next to the tree, and the donation will be publicized to the media, along with other Museum holiday events and programs.  Anyone who is interested may contact Jim Munson, the Vanderbilt Museum’s operations supervisor: [email protected]

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Port Jefferson Station/Terryville Chamber of Commerce celebrates its tree-lighting ceremony Dec. 7. Photos by Joan Nickeson

The Port Jefferson Station/Terryville Chamber of Commerce opened the holiday season Dec. 7 with its annual tree-lighting ceremony outside the chamber-owned train car at the corner of Routes 347 and 112.

Chamber leaders were joined by Suffolk County Legislator Kara Hahn (D-Setauket), not to mention Santa Claus himself. Members of the PJ Station-based School of Rock and Backstage Studio of Dance were available for live entertainment. Refreshments were served by Buttercup’s Dairy Store and Colonial Coffee.

The next night, Dec. 8, the chamber started its annual Polar Express Experience nights, allowing young people to watch “The Polar Express” inside the chamber’s train car, where they were served a candy cane, cookies and hot cocoa.

The chamber is hosting additional Polar Express experiences Saturday and Sunday through December.