Many Middletown residents are freshly back from the tree lighting ceremony on Main Street tonight. T'was a festive occasion, what with a beautifully lit conifer, Middletown High's band playing in the cold night air, and city streets that were very, very full.
The festivities started at Middletown's Chamber of Commerce, next door to the Church of the Holy Trinity. High School students milled about, adorned both with flashing Christmas tree lights and various woodwinds. There were also warmly clad men and women huddling behind card tables. Some sold hot chocolate to parents; others gathered canned goods for the Holy Trinity's food shelter.
At 5:30 sharp, the band set off from the Chamber, marching north past Middletown’s two RiteAids and into the little park on the east side of Main Street. Five hundred or more people stood there, shivering and waiting around a darkened tree. After a short program by a school chorus (I was far away and really couldn't hear), the crowd was treated to a very small speech by Middletown mayor Sebastian N. Guiliano. While the mayor addressed the crowd, a very tall Ronald McDonald gesticulated wildly at children closest to the stage, potential customers one and all.
And suddenly there was light and a lighted tree. As this huge symbol of Christmas popped to life – 1/8th less electricity compared to last year – the band's holiday tunes once again filled the air. Almost immediately, the mayor and Ronald left the stage, parting the crowd and moving to the head of the band, which had done an about face and was pointing back toward the Chamber. The phalanx-like throng of instrument-clad students then proceeded to march back down Main Street, led by the mayor and, yes, Ronald McDonald. When the group reached the Chamber, Mayor Giuliano and Ronald were greeted by Santa Claus and a baseball mascot whose name was, I believe, “Rocky.” Ronald then took over the evening’s program, inciting the admittedly excellent band to keep playing and repeatedly complimenting both the band leader – a man named Gaylord – and the “best mayor in Connecticut.”
As I watched this scene, a few cynical people behind me were horrified that “McDonald’s has bought their way into this moment of civic and holiday pride.” My daughter and I, however, enjoyed this curious moment of Middletown syncretism, where a corporate clown and the spirit of Christmas come together to the sound of saxophones and a tight drum corps.