Friday, December 12

Christmas season in public

I snapped this photo last week. The wife and I were pretty excited to find that the Capital Christmas Tree this year comes from the Bitteroot National Forest, the exact place where we fetched our own tree the last two years. Those connections between places are always nice.

Conventional thinking dictates that people want to be indoors during the cold months, perhaps shuffling between buildings on skywalks or walking through a mall, certainly not outside bundled up in layers of outerwear. But this is just not the way reality always plays out. How many crowds gather in "first nights" around the country, waiting in frigid midnight temperatures just to see some digital clock change numbers? People are surprisingly resilient, and we never lose that yearning for fresh air, public celebration, and the use of places we call our own.

The Project for Public Spaces has written about successful winter events around the world:

"PPS president Fred Kent and senior vice president Kathy Madden came back from a tour of European Christmas markets in Vienna, Salzburg, Paris and Munich last year amazed at all the public activity in chilly weather. "People were out walking, shopping, going to markets, eating from street vendors. The city hall squares were full of events," Kent reports. "You did not want to go indoors at all because there was so much going on."

Unlike any other time of the year, the Christmas season allows cities to create and sustain public traditions. Ice skating in Central Park or the lighting of the tree on Rockefeller plaza are not only popular events, they have taken on an iconic status almost emblematic of New York City itself. The coldness is no deterrent at all. It possibly even enhances the experience with a highlight of perseverance. And there's usually a cup of hot chocolate as a just reward.

Charlottesville has a few winter public traditions. Last week, we paid a visit to the Lighting of the Lawn at University of Virginia. Students and residents alike meandered around Jefferson's academical village, while an extensive line-up of a cappella groups sang from the steps of the Rotunda. The various indoor events held in each pavillion, where professors live, integrated seamlessly with the outdoor festivites. Even the rain did not keep the crowds away. It just concentrated them under the extensive network of verandas.

The City of Charlottesville holds a holiday market on Saturdays on the downtown mall:

"Unique gifts & decorations to meet all your holiday needs will be offered at the Holiday Market. All items are Handmade, Homegrown or Home baked by local farmers, artists, or Bakers."

I love haw Bakers got the capital letter. Makes me smile (I used to be a baker).

Most people don't want to live a climate-controlled life all the time. There are ways cities can leverage the winter months to their advantage.

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