Last Saturday morning I had the pleasure of ushering in the Christmas season by marching with Attorney General and gubernatorial candidate Letitia (Tish) James through the streets of Prospect Heights Brooklyn in the second-annual Santa Land Parade.
The parade featured several excellent marching bands including the Victory Music and Dance Company, the Harmony Music Makers, and the Empire Marching Elite. JJ the Clown and Friends provided costumed cartoon characters, while the Exotic Jumbies walked stilts. The route stretched south down Washington Avenue from Atlantic Avenue, turning right on Eastern Parkway past the Brooklyn Museum before turning north on Vanderbilt Avenue and finishing up at the Atlantic Terminal Mall.
It [the parade] brings a small-town vibe for a growing diverse community to bring everybody together. The neighbors come out and enjoy each other in a real feel-good type of event where people are just celebrating the holidays, and also celebrating and spotlighting the small businesses as well as merging a marriage between the small businesses and the Atlantic Terminal Mall because we all can coexist,” said Parade Founder and Organizer Tammy Meadows.
Along the route, Tish and former Public Advocate Candidate Tony Herbert – who also marched with us – pointed out buildings where they once lived as well as a number of Black-owned businesses. They also recalled the bad old days before gentrification when the neighborhood battled high crime and drug dealers.
Meadows is a salt of the earth pillar of the community. She grew up in the neighborhood and lives in a building under the city’s Tenant Interim Lease (TIL) Program. TIL was established in the 1970s and 80s, when the city was rife with slumlords and abandoned buildings. It allows tenants to manage city-owned buildings, and Meadows literally had to fight off drug dealers to live there. Across the street from her building are now luxury rentals and condos.
Marching in the parade reminded me how much I enjoy celebrating the Christmas season in the city. As a former subway and street musician, I learned a half-dozen or so Christmas songs and I’ve always derived great pleasure in playing and singing them and feeling the spirit of the holiday.
The Santa Land Parade was also the kickoff to Meadows creating Santa-Land on the lower level of the mall during the holiday season, complete with a Santa and photo-taking opportunities. Santa-Land has been going for a number of years, and I’ve stopped by on occasion after playing in the nearby subway to play a few tunes and spread some holiday cheer.
Some fellow Jews I know think it’s funny that I play Christmas songs and wear a Santa hat while doing it, but I never saw it as a conflict. I’ve always been comfortable enough in my own skin to celebrate holidays of other religions while remaining true to my own beliefs.
So to all who celebrate, have a very Merry Christmas holiday season. And if you happen to see subway musicians as you transverse the city, make sure to tip them.