Three things happened simultaneously during the grand finale of Manhasset’s annual tree lighting to create maximum dramatic effect:
Lights illuminated the towering tree in Mary Jane Davies Green for the first time, Mariah Carey’s familiar recorded voice began a low hum and, up the road, on a beautifully lit fire truck, came the myth himself: Santa Claus.
The crowd cheered and children stormed the edge of the street waving at their hero, all immediately forgiving the fact that the grand finale hadn’t happened precisely on cue with their initial communal countdown.
It was the conclusion to a spirited, chilly Friday evening in the park, a Manhasset tradition in partnership with the Town of North Hempstead, where hot chocolate flowed, and music and celebration welcomed the Christmas season.
“This event is always well attended by Manhasset community, and I know I speak for everyone when I say this is a tradition at Mary Jane Davies Green that is not to be missed,” said town Councilwoman and state Sen.-elect Anna Kaplan. “No matter what holiday you celebrate it’s always a very special time of the year.”
This year’s theme was “All Aboard the Manhasset Polar Express” and, just like any train destined for greatness, the lighting had its own conductor: Kimberly Corcoran-Dalante, the town’s Department of Community Services commissioner.
Corcoran-Dalante emceed the evening, first introducing the Rev. Marc Herbst of Manhasset’s Church of Our Saviour Lutheran and soon after the Manhasset High School brass choir.
Hundreds gathered on the lawn, some children wearing Santa hats, others eagerly accepting jingle bells.
When the crowd didn’t respond to Kaplan’s initial “hello” to her satisfaction, she reminded everyone “come on you can do better than that – we gave you free hot chocolate!”
She urged attendees to shop locally and support small businesses on Plandome Road.
Elle Carrara, a 7-year-old second-grader at Shelter Rock Elementary School, left the evening a winner.
A poster she created for the Manhasset Chamber of Commerce’s annual contest earned her second place for her grade category and a spot on the Olympic-style podium.
“I put Santa Claus in a sleigh, and I put a tree and animals and the polar express,” Carrara said. “My teacher gave me a note and there was a polar express on it so I tried to copy the polar express.”
For the penultimate event before the tree lighting, winners lined up at the pavilion, knowing they had won but not knowing what place they had earned.
“The best held secret in Manhasset is the winners of the poster contest,” said Nancy Morris, who has run the contest for 15 years.
Carrara said she enters the contest every year and was excited to get to stand on the podium. She even got to see her poster displayed in a store on Plandome Road because the chamber showcases them in the weeks leading up to the tree lighting.
But seeing Santa was Carrara’s favorite part of the evening, even beating out her moment of fame, she said after running up to his firetruck.
And though she’s still thinking about her wish list, her favorite part of Christmas is the presents.
As Manhasset’s community tree glows, the countdown to Christmas begins.