UNION, NJ — Ice sculptures, goats and a skating rink transformed the front of Union Town Hall into a holiday-themed park for two days, giving residents and early taste of Christmas with horse and buggy rides and local entertainment deals.
“It enticed (residents) to also spend time in the center of town, to help our local businesses,” said Union Mayor Suzette Cavadas on Dec. 2, the last day of the festivities. “I thought that was important. But of course, Santa Claus was a great hit and so was our tree lighting.”
A township fire truck brought in Santa at the end of an evening filled with free hot chocolate, holiday-themed children’s games and musical performances by local children. The culmination with the lighting of the tree in front of Town Hall drew “oohs” and “ahhs” from the crowd.
Students from the Kawameeh Middle School choir came bundled in winter coats and scarves to sing songs, including “Oh Come All Ye Faithful” and “Silent Night.” Choruses from Hannah Caldwell Elementary School and Connecticut Farms School also performed.
Joyce Pleasant came to watch her 9-year-old daughter perform with Hannah Caldwell Elementary School. She said it was her first year coming to the tree-lighting event, though she’s lived in town for about two years.
“It was really amazing,” said of seeing her daughter perform. “I’m just really super thankful for Union Township having the opportunity for kids to express themselves through the arts.”
This was the first year the township provided a makeshift skating rink in the parking lot next to the Dunkin’ Donuts on Morris Avenue. The tree lighting had been held on Sundays in previous years, but it was moved to Saturday to better accommodate families, the mayor said.
A live Nativity scene was hosted by Crossroad Christian Fellowship on Dec. 2, and characters from Disney’s “Frozen” also walked around the center for photo opportunities.
Ice sculptor Billy Bywater was also on hand earlier in the day for a live demonstration that resulted in a life-sized creation of the Grinch, the Dr. Seuss character.
He made the sculpture from a single 300-pound block of ice, carving it with tools similar to those used by carpenters. Although his art is short-lived, Bywater said this pushes him to take risks while sculpting.
“It actually frees you up, so I don’t have to worry about having something that’s too conformist,” Bywater said. “If I already know it’s not going to last, there’s no reason not to go for it.”
Union’s United Taekwondo Academy also put on a magic show, and families could take photos with Santa at Here’s The Story … Books and Video on Stuyvesant Avenue.
The Union Recreation Department and Special Improvement District were pivotal in organizing this year’s event. Dinner specials were available at some Union Center restaurants Dec. 1, and reduced-price movie tickets were also available at the Union Theaters during the two-day spectacular.