From the Press

Joy of the Christmas Season Arrives Early in Sping Lake

By Caren Caterina

Superstorm Sandy decimated Spring Lake’s beautiful beachfront and boardwalk, flooded families out of their homes, ruined peoples’ vehicles and possessions and brought on a financial hit to local businesses. One month later, the borough overall continues to piece together its new sense of normal.

On Saturday, one would never have known a hurricane had torn through town and peoples’ lives, as Spring Lakers stepped away from the aftermath of Sandy and instead stepped into a Christmas wonderland downtown with their loved ones and a renewed sense of thankfulness in their hearts.


Spring Lake kicked off the spirit of the Christmas season on Saturday night with its annual tree lighting ceremony and festivities.

Spring Lake Recreation Director Kathy Heine said she was more than pleased with the evening.

“The weather was nice, there was a great bunch of people. I enjoyed it,” Mrs. Heine said.

In the past, festivities were held near the flagpole, at the corner of Passaic and Third avenues. Last year, the celebration was moved to Morris Avenue.

“The new venue where we have the tree lends more to the performances and more people can fit in that area,” Mrs. Heine said. “It is in the middle of town and it was a beautiful night.”

“And this year, we are all very thankful to be together and show our thanks — celebrating the coming holiday season,” she said.

This year’s Christmas Tree was estimated to be about six feet taller and doubled in its 5,000 lights from last year — making its height 23-feet tall with a total of 9,600 LED lights. A star on top also added three feet of height.

On Saturday night, Spring Lake resident Amy Carr Skalecki, who is also a member of Spring Lake Theatre Company’s cast of “Scrooge,” served as the master of ceremonies, Mrs. Heine said.

Pastor Frances Preston of St. Andrew’s United Methodist Church in Spring Lake performed a blessing.

Mayor Jennifer Naughton welcomed attendees to the evening.

The third grade choir from the Spring Lake-based Catholic school St. Catharine performed under the direction of Karen Phillips- Burlington.

Holiday-inspired dances were performed by the Spring Lake Theatre Dance Company, under the direction of Colleen McGovern Mangan.

St. Andrew’s choir and Atlantic Brass Band performed music under the direction of Mary Eichhorn.

Members of the Spring Lake Community House’s [SLCH] upcoming performance of “Scrooge,” which is celebrating its 30th year at the local theatre, sang “Thank You Very Much.”

“And of course Santa and Mrs. Claus arrived,” Mrs. Heine said, driven by Don Brahn, who is a member of the Spring Lake Fire Department.

“He has been driving Santa for as many years as I can remember,” Mrs. Heine said.

Many of the Third Avenue businesses were open late and offered tasty treats, such as cider, hot chocolate, cookies or candy outside of their stores for those walking by to take. Families also enjoyed hayrides and visiting with Santa and Mrs. Claus at the SLCH.

“It was an absolute perfect night,” Mayor Naughton said. “And it has become a tradition in town.”

“It is a collective effort and truly a small town community effort,” Mayor Naughton said. “And I think people really needed that. We have been through some challenging times this past month.”

The evening helped “start the season on the right note,” she said.

“I am thankful for everyone who came out to watch it,” she said.


Many community-related organizations in town, including the community house, Spring Lake Recreation, Greater Spring Lake Chamber of Commerce and the borough’s Business Improvement District [BID] came together to bring residents a special evening.

“It is a real collaboration of all these people to make it a lovely evening,” Mrs. Heine said. “Each year, it gets better because the whole town comes together to make it a nice evening.”

“It takes a lot of people to pull off something like that,” she said.

“Everyone can feel the warmth and love in that area,” Mrs. Heine said. “It aims to get you in the mood for the holiday.”

The Christmas kick-off was always celebrated the Saturday after Thanksgiving, but the hurricane caused a week delay.

“It was a different tone this year because of the devastation, but the holiday season is coming and we should be thankful for what we have,” Mrs. Heine said.

During the event, the miniature train display set up at Clayton Livery and Limousine Service, 1207 Third Ave. was packed with curious faces.

BID Chairman Richard Clayton said hundreds come to see the German-made LGB [Lehmann Gross Bahn] train display each year, which is about 12-feet wide, 35-feet long and made up of three-tiered levels.

Spring Lake business owners also decorated miniature buildings replicating their business, and were asked to make a contribution of any amount donated to the SLCH for a charitable cause.

The display began originally as a primitive set in the storefront. Those walking by enjoyed it so much, Clayton’s Limo created the current display which is so large the main office is rearranged to make it fit.

Clayton’s Manager Pete Casagrande builds the platforms, lays out the track and times the trains, while Mr. Clayton lays out the buildings and accessorizes.

The train display is open through New Years Eve, daily from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m.

“We had our doubts if we would have enough time to accomplish this,” Mr. Clayton said.

“People have enjoyed this as much as they have in the past,” Mr. Clayton said. “And, people are grateful. People needed something to be happy about.”

“Despite what has happened to all of us this past month, they are kicking into the Christmas spirit,” he said. “The amount of smiles on people’s faces is priceless.”

“We just do it … it’s magic,” Mr. Clayton said. “It is a very, very positive atmosphere.”

Admiring the train display was Spring Lake resident Stephanie Povlas.

“This is a special evening that has kicked off the Christmas season for me for the past 20 years,” she said. “I find I always look forward to it, and it never disappoints.”

a magical evening

Watching the tree lighting, Stephen Dombroski, of Wall, a member of Spring Lake’s DPW for many years, said the evening always “gets people into the spirit.”

“Spring Lake is such a great town, year round,” Mr. Dombroski said. “Most people think it is a summer town, but look here tonight.”

“It is my favorite night of the year,” Greater Spring Lake Chamber of Commerce President George D’Amico said.

“What everyone has gone through,” Mr. D’Amico said the evening was needed “even more.”

“It is a wonderful way to celebrate life at the shore,” he said. “It is one of the biggest crowds ever.”

“It is a magical night,” Mr. D’Amico said. “It is like a Norman Rockwell, Currier and Ives Christmas.”

At the SLCH, Caroline Miele, 15, of Spring Lake Heights, a member of the Spring Lake Theatre Dance Company, said she enjoyed dancing to ‘Let it Snow.’

“It was a lot of fun,” Caroline said. “Especially after Sandy it was important to show everyone Christmas would still be great.”

Brielle resident Frank Leonhardt, who plays a charity gent in “Scrooge,” said he enjoys “being part of something greater than yourself.”

“It is like a throw back. It reminds you of a downtown Christmas scene in ‘It’s a Wonderful Life,’” he said. “And, it is a celebration of traditions of our past, brought into our present.”

Lydia Mencer, 7, of Wall, was an elf on a firetruck with Santa and Mrs. Claus. Lydia said she enjoyed singing songs such as ‘Frosty the Snowman.’

Lydia, who plays a ballerina in ‘Scrooge’ said what she enjoys most about Christmas is spending time with her family.

Morgan Iglay, 10, and her sister, Audrey, 7, of Spring Lake, were enjoying festivities at the SLCH.

Morgan is a member of the Spring Lake Theatre Dance Company. Audrey, on Saturday night, sang ‘Thank You Very Much’ with other ‘Scrooge’ cast members.

“I think it was dancing on the street and seeing everyone clap,” Morgan said of her favorite part of the evening.

Audrey said she most enjoyed singing with her fellow cast mates.

Morgan said the evening is a special time for residents because of “the Christmas tree lighting, Santa, candy canes and the elves.”

“I thought everything that went at the tree lighting was perfect — the tree lighting, the kids performed beautifully. I could not have been more proud of the town, especially after what everyone has gone through,” Pat Barry, artistic director and producer at the SLCH Theatre, said.

At the SLCH, Ms. Barry said many children visited with Santa. “We gave away all our balloons and candy canes,” she said.

“Everyone has been down, and everyone is going through pain right now, but things will get better,” Ms. Barry said.

“I was pleased with the whole night, a lot of work goes into it. It went well,” she said. “It was definitely the best. And I have been involved in every tree lighting ceremony.”

Additionally, the Historic Inns of Spring Lake held its annual Candlelight Christmas Inn Tour on Saturday, where people could visit each inn decorated in its holiday finest. Innkeepers and their staff invited visitors to come to their inns and enjoy an evening filled with the joy and warmth of the holiday season. Guests were welcome to visit each parlor and porch.

This year’s ticket holders also enjoyed treats at two inns on the tour — a complimentary holiday tea at The Breakers and a Christmas Boutique at The Ocean House, both in Spring Lake.