Connections: Stars of Wonder

The last two weeks have been a head-spinning round of community events

Merry Christmas to you all. It’s not quite 60 years since I first began to celebrate Christmas with the Protestant family I married into. I was brought up in a secular Jewish family that didn’t do much more in December than light a special menorah for the eight nights of Hanukkah. (I remember my maternal grandfather giving me chocolate Hanukkah “gelt” each year, too, and I cherish the brass hanukiah with two lions of Judah I inherited.) 

Hanukkah took place this year during the first week of December, which feels like eons ago! The last two weeks have been a head-spinning round of community events: choral concerts, carol singing, craft sales, and all the pageants the children get involved in. 

Opportunities for wishing people a Happy Hanukkah come far less frequently than do chances to wish everyone a Happy Christmas — perhaps because there are far fewer public celebrations surrounding the Festival of Lights. 

One of the most uplifting things about this time of year, for me, is the merry round of annual holiday concerts in the schools, and the various theatrical productions put on by dance studios and student troupes. These shows truly are one of the nicest perquisites of being a grandparent.

Shakespeare’s “As You Like It” was performed twice at Guild Hall’s John Drew Theater two weeks ago by students of the Hayground School in Bridgehampton, which two of my grandchildren attend. A total humbug sitting near me in the audience at the second performance semi-humorously griped that the experience amounted to an hour and a half of trying without success to hear, let alone understand, what the youthful cast was saying. . . . Well, I say, try sitting in the front of the theater next time! The kids may not all enunciate as well as Laurence Olivier, but just the experience of memorizing snippets of Shakespeare’s language is educational, and coming onto the stage as part of a creative community is obviously a joyful ritual. 

Then, last week, came Studio 3 dance school’s three performances of “Mixed Nuts,” a mashup of “The Nutcracker” and a more contemporary musical (in this case, “The Wizard of Oz”) at the Bay Street Theater in Sag Harbor. One of my granddaughters — following in the slipper-clad footsteps of an older cousin — simply loves the classes she takes at 

Studio 3, which is tucked away in a Bridgehampton commercial building off Butter Lane. The instructors — Diane Shumway, Meredith Shumway, Jenna Mazanowski, and others — have nurtured a stable of young dancers with talent that in some instances is truly startling. There were elements of ballet, jazz, and lyrical dance in this year’s “Mixed Nuts,” and the “bravos” and “bravas” at the end of Saturday night’s show were sincere.

Perhaps the most enlightening, and most surprising, entertainment this December — last week, as well — was the Ross Lower School’s enactment of plays the students had written themselves after studying the lives of three inspiring historic figures: Mary Anning, Louis Braille, and the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

Dr. King’s place in history is known to all. The story of Louis Braille is also celebrated, but likely new to the young thespians: As a young blind boy, Braille invented a series of raised dots that translated into letters and words, making it possible for him to read. I myself had never heard before of the third subject, the British paleontologist Mary Anning, a dedicated fossil hunter in the early-19th century who discovered crucial artifacts of the Jurassic period in the cliffs near Lyme Regis.

The biggest surprise was to see one of my grandsons perform as Dr. King. While some of my grandchildren are African-American, this particular grandson is not. Watching a blond 8-year-old embody Dr. King was both somewhat humorous and absolutely heartwarming.