A boy takes part in a candlelight vigil in Newtown,
Connecticut, on Friday, a week after a shooting at Sandy
Hook Elementary school claimed 26 lives. REUTERS/Eric
Christmas is everywhere here, yet Christmas is nowhere.
The official town Christmas tree sparkles with lights as it
stands stoic and beautiful in a pasture, facing a cemetery
dotted with new graves.
Wreaths with festive red ribbons seem to grace every door,
even of the churches that have held so many funerals. Candles
glow in the windows of warmly lighted homes, including those
whose occupants are in mourning.
The question is obvious: How can a town celebrate a holiday
so linked to children and joy when both are missing?
"Enjoy it with family," said the town historian, Daniel
"Keep up the traditions from the past," said Phil Keane, a
Newtown dad who planned to do just that: bake a gingerbread
house from scratch with his wife and three children.
"Remind people they're not alone," said Heather Gunn-Rivera,
who grew up here. Her mother teaches at the shattered Sandy
Hook Elementary School, and Gunn-Rivera has opened a "healing
center" for people to be together through the holiday.
"We need Christmas now more than ever," said Carrie Swan,
standing in her Christmas store surrounded by ornaments,
stocking-stuffers, and glowing baubles destined for small
gift boxes. "The parents need it more than ever. The children
need it more than ever."
Indeed, say locals, who note that Newtown - particularly its
youngest citizens - have been robbed of too many holidays
Last year, a blizzard derailed the annual Halloween
festivities that bring hundreds of trick-or-treaters on to
Main Street. This year, Superstorm Sandy also ruined
Halloween. And then came the Sandy Hook Elementary School
massacre on December 14, when a gunman killed 20
first-graders and six employees. The tragedy seemed sure to
steal Christmas from a town that for generations has embraced
it with caroling, tree-lighting ceremonies, pageants and a
But as the holiday approaches, small miracles have begun
appearing, lending credence to the idea that Christmas will
go on, even as the town copes with unprecedented heartbreak.
On a cold, windy afternoon, women set up tables laden with
freshly baked pies in front of the Edmond Town Hall and
passed out free slices.
Passersby stopped, smiled and chatted with strangers as they
dug into the unexpected treats. Therapy dogs - 180-pound
Great Danes, glossy golden retrievers and tiny dachshunds -
strolled the sidewalks with their owners, stopping patiently
to be petted and hugged by adults and children.
The Edmond Town Hall theater, a monument to the days of
richly upholstered seats, brocade curtains and balconies,
opened its doors for evening showings of holiday movies.
First up: "Arthur Christmas," an animated film about a
scramble to deliver a missing gift.
It's a comedy, proof that laughter still exists in Newtown.
"Even grieving people don't want the world changed for them,"
said Russell Friedman of the Grief Recovery Institute, a Los
Angeles nonprofit organization that studies grief and advises
individuals and communities how to deal with loss.
Friedman said the timing of the shooting so close to
Christmas would make the holiday harder to endure. His mother
died the night before Thanksgiving 19 years ago, and the
memory still pains him. That year, as he saw other people
scurrying to holiday feasts and celebrating the day, Friedman
"Didn't these people know my mother had just died?!" he
No doubt, many in Newtown will feel the same way. "It won't
have the same tone it would have had last year," Friedman
said of Christmas. "But to stop and cancel the world because
of this would be a big error. It wouldn't help the grievers.
It wouldn't help the people around them."
With that in mind, people from near and far have come forward
to make sure Christmas lives on here. Friends and family of
one of the Sandy Hook victims, school psychologist Mary
Sherlach, sponsored a gingerbread-house-making session at the
library; the Christmas Village in Torrington, about 35 miles
away, invited Newtown families for a special visit with Santa
Claus; the Greenwich Fire Department said it would treat
people to free ice cream and yogurt at a Newtown ice cream
"We want the town of Newtown to remember this Christmas
season for the thousands of acts of kindness, not the
singular act of madness," one of the Greenwich volunteers,
Stanley Thal, told the Newtown Bee, which has been tweeting a
running list of such gestures - including toy giveaways,
magic shows and free visits to local attractions.
Cruson is waiting for the day he can write or talk about
December 14 without getting tears in his eyes. Tom Mahoney, a
lifelong Newtowner who manages the Town Hall theater, and who
made the decision to reopen it a week after the shooting,
admitted that he didn't feel much like decorating his house
with lights and ornaments.
"It doesn't really feel much like Christmas anymore," Mahoney
But on the Friday night before Christmas, hours after the
town observed a moment of silence and the church bells rang
26 times to remember the victims, the smell of popcorn filled
the Town Hall lobby, and children settled into the theater's
seats to watch a movie.
"They've been robbed of Halloween. They've lost their
friends," said Joe Tarshis, a Newtown resident. "They're not
going to miss Christmas."