Hope for the Holidays

Old and New Holiday Celebrations Across the East Side

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With Christmas and Hanukkah soon to arrive, it’s a pleasure to note that the East Side maintains such versatility, transforming from season to season with a wonderful utility. The beautiful neighborhoods offer a variety of seasonal fun, each with distinctive qualities that make Providence such an uncommonly cool city.

Wayland Square has always claimed a homey feel, with mom and pop shops, such as Minerva’s Pizza, Paper Nautilus, and Books on The Square, abutting national outfits like Starbucks and CVS. It’s a friendly vibe, with pleasant collisions of cultures occurring - sushi restaurants preparing tamago and Philly rolls right alongside a 1960s-style diner serving home fries and pancakes and hip bookstores offering printed esoterica next to Starbucks pouring Iced Grande Chai Lattes. On December 1, the denizens of Wayland Square will start the month off with a glow.

“We’re hoping to kick off December 1 with a tree lighting,” says the energetic Jessica Leach, who, along with Marti Del Negro, is organizing holiday events in Wayland Square in cooperation with local merchants. “We’re getting eight individual trees in front of L’Artisan.” Leach and Del Negro are also working with nearby McBride’s Pub to make the evening especially memorable. “McBride’s been doing this party for thirty years. Even before they had the bar. It’s based on the New York Sun editorial, ‘Yes, Virginia, there is a Santa Claus...’ People can go right from that party out to the lighting,” says Del Negro.

The gathering at McBride’s and the tree lighting are part of the first annual “walking gallery” done in cooperation with regional businesses. According to Leach, the attractive streets twisting through Wayland and Elmgrove will showcase artwork created by the talented kids at Moses Brown and Wheeler. “Certain shops and restaurants will display artwork, depending on the space available. Some will have the artwork just in the windows. Others will have 3D installations,” adds Leach.

On nearby Taft Street in the Blackstone neighborhood, one encounters the sturdily handsome Temple Emanu-El. This synagogue has been a mainstay of the Jewish faith on the East Side since in 1924 and offers an open door to anyone looking to belong to a long-respected community. On December 8, also known as the sixth day of Hanukkah, the fine folks at the esteemed Temple will host the truly inspired Hanukkah Hoedown. This lively celebration will start at 6pm with the lighting of the menorah followed by a light meal. All this leads up to an authentic square dance. Themed decorations playfully combining elements of traditional Judaism and country and western rave-ups will be on display.

On December 16, walk down College Hill to discover that the venerable First Baptist Church, placidly looming over North Main Street since 1638, presenting an afternoon Christmas Concert featuring the church’s orchestra, choir, and soloists. Selections include baroque pieces by composers Dieterich Buxtehude, Johann Kuhnau, and George Frideric Handel, as well as Christmas carols. Music begins at 2pm, free although donations are accepted.

Immediately before or after the First Baptist Church’s Christmas Concert, stop by Dave’s Coffee on South Main Street. This friendly neighborhood cafe is firmly dedicated to fine brews, inclusivity, and open-mindedness. Dave’s provides tasty coffee, delicious pastries, and dozens of other foody-type selections. This coffee shop has been known to whip up homemade marshmallows on the very premises to add to their hot chocolate.

A gorgeous Victorian on Hope Street, The Lippitt House Museum will present its annual Christmas Scotch Party, during which revelers can sip, sample, and savor high end liquors. That goes down on December 6. This soiree encourages visitors to create decorations–Victorian style, using paper and aluminum. Relax in a cozy nook while you read a tome full of Victorian Christmas tales while enjoying a classic holiday treat of milk and cookies. During the celebration, you can also tour the festooned Lippitt House Museum.

At 324 Hope Street, better known to some as Hope High School, hip holiday shoppers must dig into the 6th Annual Holiday Markets sponsored by The Providence Flea. Taking place on three Sundays and a Saturday – December 2, 9, 15, and 16 – rotating line-ups of vendors, over 150 in all, will sell vintage treasures alongside handcrafted one-of-a-kinds. Score a handmade scarf, a poinsettia, a Johnny Mathis album, and a Christmas ornament made of repurposed clothespins, all in the same morning. They’ll be food trucks and plenty of bargains to be had.

On the other end of Hope where things get commercial there’s also the Hope Street Holiday Stroll, from noon to 6pm on December 2. This family friendly event will have food trucks, a roster of live performers, and local vendors.

Mark your calendar for December 21 for Wickenden Wonderland. The eclectic street gets especially festive starting with a procession led by live musicians from The Point Tavern to George M. Cohan Square; the evening commences with caroling, hot chocolate, and a tree lighting.

Finally, there are plenty of people who use the holidays to spend time with family and friends. As can be inferred from this article, hopefully, the inventive and friendly inhabitants of the East Side can be counted on to celebrate the holidays in wonderful ways. The Galpern family of the Summit section choose to celebrate with a neighboring family. Interfaith couples (comprising Jewish, Baptist, and Catholic traditions) with powerful creative inclinations and bright, friendly kids, they've been known to warm up festivities with a combination bingo game/Yankee swap for inexpensive presents.

“Creating our own family traditions is important to Fred and me,“ says Jennifer Galpern. “We have tried to incorporate things from both our backgrounds, some have worked, some have not. We celebrate both Hanukkah and Christmas, which the kids love because it makes present season last from their birthdays in November all the way through the end of the year! We have an amazing group of friends, our "chosen family" that we celebrate with on Christmas day.”

The Galpern festivities generally include an elaborate brunch of crepes. One family member’s date of birth falls on December 25 and so a birthday celebration is incorporated. Says Jennifer, “It’s an exciting occasion, one that mixes long standing traditions with new ideas to vibrant effect. Perfectly at home in Providence. At sundown, everybody has Chinese food.”