Holidays Festival returns to thrill Nutley

        Aiden, 6, with his older  brother Liam, 9, enjoys meeting a few real ‘characters’ at the Nutley holiday event.
Aiden, 6, with his older brother Liam, 9, enjoys meeting a few real ‘characters’ at the Nutley holiday event.

NUTLEY, NJ — The North Pole materialized out of thin air again this year in Nutley, and as with any magical appearance, it was greeted with huge crowds and plenty of holiday cheer.

The entire town, without taking a breath after the successful Nutley Oval helicopter arrival of Santa only two days prior, was out in full force to celebrate the most beloved season of the year.

This year, some new delights were in store for visitors.
The holiday train was twice as long, with two separate areas to board, and as it chugged along the safe auto-free area of Franklin Avenue, the kids were as boisterous and cheerful as ever. But train conductor Garrett Wilbur wasn’t complaining, saying that that the louder the better, in his opinion.

“We love the kids, and they let you know how happy they are when they get on our trains,” he said above the roar.
New this year were impressive ice sculptures created by professional ice artist Jimmy Chiappa. With a station set up to make real-time ice sculptures for the delighted crowds, Chiappa had his tools at the ready: ice picks, chisels and a handy chainsaw.
“I’ve been doing this for 22 years,” Chiappa said. “I work seven days a week, and I have not had a day off since last February!”

The favorite piece of ice sculpture — which had people waiting in line — was the clever ice-person waving hello, with a perfect space left empty for someone to position their own face inside it to create a perfect holiday photo or Christmas card.

The traditional spot where chestnuts were roasting on an open fire was also the scene of great revelry, as longtime Nutley friends joyfully roasted the chestnuts, all donated by Frank Oliver, over the large outdoor flames. The smoky, crispy, hot-to-handle treats were tender little bites that were just the perfect comfort food for the season.

Inside John Walker Middle School, visitors could view the student art work up for judging, and students performed pitch-perfect holiday songs, with the audience often moved to sing along.

Santa Claus was busy too, as children of all ages visited him inside the cafeteria, where he listened solemnly to the whispered wishes of many children.

Parents also were on hand, selling small homemade treats such as pumpkin bread and cookies, to the hungry parents and kids, while the town offered free apple cider and other treats, including pretzels for one and all.

Like a dazzling and sparkling Christmas card from days gone by, this was a memorable, old-fashioned holiday event, filled with small-town charm.

With so many Nutley residents hugging one another, as their children safely explored the North Pole-inspired world created for them, the feeling in the air wasn’t just happiness, but pure joy.

As Philip Van Doren Stern, the gifted Nutley author of “It’s a Wonderful Life,” noted, the most precious things we will ever have are those we love, even in the midst of our simple lives.

Happy holidays!