Columnist: Celebrating Christmas in New York

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, December 22, 2015

Loran Smith

Syndicated columnist

NEW YORK, N. Y. — Although it is not exactly a heat wave, New York is enjoying near balmy weather, highly unusual for this time of the year. Everything else is the same: shoppers scurrying about, the sights and sounds of Christmas in the city leaving you humbled, and an ever-present cheerfulness permeating the atmosphere that charms and inspires residents and visitors alike.

New York dresses up for Christmas like no other. All who move about do so with a lively step. You feel free because your world is free. You think about sharing and giving. You can enjoy the Christmas spirit in the biggest of cities but also in the rural crossroads of America.

At Rockefeller Center, the centerpiece being the ice rink, where skaters glide about — or stumble, depending on the level of skill — you are overcome by the music of Bing Crosby singing, “I’m Dreaming of a White Christmas,” and Mel Torme crooning “The Christmas Song.”

While I have been here “and done that,” skating around the charming rink, I prefer to watch. I’ll give you the reason, even if you likely know. My ankles and balance are not what they once were. Nonetheless, I can still come here and be impressed by those who cavort on ice without regard for bones low on calcium.

Chestnuts roasting on an open fire, Jack Frost nipping at your nose,

Yultide carols being sung by a choir, and folks dressed up like Eskimos.

Have you ever let those lyrics put you to sleep? There is no greater experience to hear such music by the fire during the holiday season. Those Christmas songs that have stood the test of time are a reminder that the pace of life is important. Rap music may have its place, but it can’t be everlasting. I prefer the soft stuff. Give me something tranquil and restful at Christmas — not jackhammers and cacophony. Sooth my nerves, don’t rattle my bones.

Everywhere you set foot in Manhattan, except for certain residential neighborhoods, you remember that something else was in place yesteryear— for example, the Marriott East Side Hotel on Lexington Ave. right behind the Waldorf, which has been my preferred residence for years.

It once was the Shelton Hotel, and there are three interesting connections with which I am familiar. The Shelton is where Georgia’s Bill Hartman and a couple of his teammates spent the summer in New York on special assignment for The Coca-Cola Co. Their expense account allowed for a suite at the Shelton. With per diem and travel expenses, Hartman made enough money to buy a Model T Ford, which he drove home at the end of the summer to prepare for his final season of college football.

The Shelton was briefly the home of artist Georgia O’Keefe, who lived there between 1925 and 1936. At the time it opened, in 1924, the Shelton was the tallest hotel in the world. O’Keefe had an apartment on the 30th floor of the hotel, which gave her a bird’s-eye view of the East River waterfront.

She captured the views of the factory smokestacks and pollution, which was incompatible with her love of the environment. There are tributes to the artist here and there in the hotel that often go unnoticed by travelers who come the hotel’s way. “Hell,” said a smiling concierge, “I’m not sure how many of our staff know who Georgia O’Keefe is and that she once lived here.”

I spied this note in a desk drawer at the Marriott East Side last week: “On August 5, 1926, magician Harry Houdini performed his last and greatest feat in front of a group of journalists (at the Shelton). Houdini spent 91 minutes in a coffin submerged in the hotel swimming pool. He then emerged from the coffin, making this the largest underwater burial. The skeleton of this pool still exists below what is now the O’Keefe Meeting Room on the lower level.”

You don’t have to be a historian to find history any place you visit — especially in New York, the city that never sleeps.

Loran Smith is an athletic administrator at the University of Georgia.