In many respects, December is the only time of year that can match the excitement of summer at the Jersey Shore. That may sound crazy, especially to those who hate winter or erroneously believe there isn’t anything worth seeing down the shore after Labor Day when it becomes too frigid to take a dip in the Atlantic. However, the holiday spirit that manifests in Monmouth, Ocean, Atlantic, and Cape May Counties every year is truly awe-inspiring, and to those who have yet to do so, certainly worth experiencing.
From Cliffwood Beach to Cape May, the coastline is officially decked out for Christmas and Hanukkah, with each community’s unique culture manifested in their individualized yuletide celebrations. There’s the Victorian charm of turn of the century communities like Asbury Park and Ocean Grove, the distinct Americana of Red Bank’s shopping district, the cultural diversity of Long Branch’s oceanfront, and the unrivaled glitz of Atlantic City. No two towns are identical—neither are their holiday celebrations—which provide a multitude of choices for those seeking to maximize their winter experience.
Long Branch showcased the musical talents of Tim McLoone and the Shirley’s, who performed at Pier Village’s pavilion and headlined the annual boardwalk tree lighting on November 30th. Aside from being possibly the best-known restaurateur in Monmouth County, McLoone has become something of a Christmas icon due to his involvement with Holiday Express, a super-group that performs charitable concerts throughout the state.
The band’s rendition of “Santa Clause is Coming to Town” heralded the arrival of the big man himself. Kris Kringle entered Long Branch in style, riding on a fire truck (as is tradition). He greeted the enthusiastic crowd and posed for photographs in Festival Plaza. For many local children, this was the first opportunity to make sure the man in red received their latest Christmas-list revisions—after-all, the toys en vogue when their initial letters were mailed in June probably aren’t as fashionable six months later—and for parents, it was a fantastic photo-op and a memory that will likely be cherished for years to come.
As always, it was a magical evening. Councilwoman Kathleen Billings, Congressman Frank Pallone, and his brother, Councilman John Pallone, joined councilwoman Mary Jane Celli, who led to the official countdown to the tree lighting. A lifelong resident of the city, the Councilman has fond memories of Christmases past, and high-expectations for those in the future.
“I was born and raised in Long Branch, so the holidays in our community have always been very special,” Councilman Pallone said. “I think the restaurants and specialty shops throughout our city make Long Branch a great destination for the holiday season. In addition, there are so many holiday events for the entire family. The Christmas tree lighting and Hanukkah candle lighting at Pier Village are great examples.”
Those who missed Santa’s initial visit to Long Branch on November 30th need not fear; he is scheduled to return on December thirteen and fourteenth, along with traditional English carolers and other attractions. Santa isn’t the only holiday attraction in Long Branch; however, and Councilman Pallone hopes would-be visitors recognize numerous Christmas and Hanukah events will be held in the coming weeks.
“Many of our churches, synagogues, civic, and service organizations have been sponsoring annual holiday events for years including visits with Santa, traditional dinners and special music presentations,” he said. “All of these events and festivities bring our community together, enliven the spirit of the season, and make Long Branch a very special place to visit.”
Similar spirit can be felt a few miles south in Asbury Park, a seaside city that boasts not one…not two…but an impressive three large-scale tree lightings. In that respect, Asbury may take the cake in regards to the most amount of Christmas spirit per square mile: there’s Paradise Nightclub’s lively Santa Saturday, Georgie’s annual Toys for Tots fundraiser, the traditional Santacon convention, a production of Scrooge at the historic Paramount Theatre, and dozens of local businesses, some of the most unique in the state, downtown and the boardwalk.
Councilwoman-elect Yvonne Clayton knows the city is a good place to spend the holidays. After-all, she spent her childhood in Asbury Park. Though she moved away from the city by the sea several years ago, its charm proved irresistible and she wound up returning, then running for and being elected to the City Council.
The Councilwoman-elect has fond memories of childhood shopping excursions during the Christmas season, when she patronized businesses along Cookman and Springwood Avenues (Steinbach’s, Country Fair, Newbury’s, and Woolworth’s were among her favorites). The city has obviously changed over the years—those stores now exist only in memory—but the community has undergone rejuvenation over the past decade or so. Thus, the downtown area is once again alive with an eclectic mix of businesses, all of which add to the festive feelings, attracting visitors from all over the tri-state and beyond.
However, downtown Asbury isn’t the only attraction. Though the beach season has been over for four months, the boardwalk is abuzz with festivities.
“There’s shopping in the arcade outside the Convention Hall where the tree lighting was last week—wonderful, wonderful shops!” Councilwoman Clayton said. “And then, we are having ‘Shuffle Sunday’…what happens is a group of merchants have gotten together and developed a deck of cards…you can go into the stores and get the cards and [they] qualify you to get different discounts. So you just walk in, give them the card, and get the discount. And they are good until March of next year!”
With so much going on, it’s no wonder Asbury residents are so enthusiastic about the month of December. Not even last week’s torrential downpour could keep locals from exercising some yuletide cheer!
“I think the holiday season right now is fantastic,” the Councilwoman said. “There are all kinds of celebrations. There was a tree lighting last night, in the pouring rain, and Santa arrived by fire truck. There were people out—not a large group—but amazingly, there were people who came out.”
“Asbury Park has become just a wonderful destination. What’s exciting about this season is there are three Christmas celebrations, including one of the West Side, and there is a Kwanzaa celebration, so it’s something that’s happening for everybody! It’s a great holiday season.”
But don’t think the fun is confined to Asbury Park and Long Branch. Though they are the two biggest cities along the shore, they are definitely not the only places where Santa Claus will be making the rounds. For example, he will attend Ocean Grove’s tree lighting on December 13th, tour Cliffwood Beach with the Cliffwood Volunteer Fire Company on December 14th, and visit the InfoAge Science center in Shark River on the thirteenth, fourteenth, twentieth, and twenty-first, to name but a few. Also, for those who prefer Santa to have a more European flair, Saint Nicholas will be visiting Allaire Village on December 14th, clad in his traditional Old World garb.
Residents of the Jersey Shore undoubtedly take pride in their communities. That the Christmas and Hannukah seasons allow them to showcase their towns, bond with friends and neighbors, and help spread some goodwill has made this one of the most highly anticipated times of the year. So, if you are looking to indulge in heartwarming yuletide celebrations, look no further than Monmouth County, the most festive place south of the North Pole.
Upcoming Santa Events:
December 13th, 2014
Santacon in Asbury Park.
Bring a donation for the local food drive.
December 14th, 2014
Santa will be traveling around Cliffwood and Cliffwood Beach with his buddies from the Cliffwood Volunteer Fire Company. Remember to listen for the truck’s sirens! https://www.facebook.com/pages/Cliffwood-Volunteer-Fire-Company-1-Station-63-2/667347259987055
November 16th – December 24th, 2014
180 Route 35, Eatontown, NJ
Come see Santa Claus at the Monmouth Mall.
December 6th, 13th, 20th, 2014
Come have breakfast with Santa Claus!
December 28th, 2014
Branch Ave. between Sycamore & Oceanport Avenues
Little Silver, NJ Ride the train with Santa Claus.
Departing from Little Silver to Red Bank at 6:44pm.
December 6th, 7th, 13th, 14th, 2014
Pier Village, 1 Chelsea Ave, Long Branch, NJ 07740
Come visit Santa Claus near the Atlantic Ocean.
December 6th, 2014
36 Church St, Middletown, NJ 07748
Ride the train with Santa at 10:00AM or 1:00PM. Tickets MUST be bought in advance at 180 Main Street, Port Monmouth. Please check availability.
December 7th, 2014
36 Church St Middletown, NJ 07748
Annual tree lighting featuring a visit from Santa.
December 13th, 2014
54 Pittaman Avenue, Ocean Grove, NJ 07756
Santa will attend the annual tree lighting outside the Great Auditorium!
November 28th, 2014
Broad and Canal Streets, Red Bank, NJ 07701
Santa will arrive to light the three following a live performance by Holiday Express. http://acoollittletown.com/calendar#/town-events
December 5th, 2014
United Methodist Church, 1104 Ocean Avenue, Sea Bright, NJ 07760
Following the tree light at Sea Bright Firehouse (1099 Ocean Ave, Sea Bright, NJ 07760), join Santa (and Mrs. Claus!) for some hot chocolate!
December 12th, 13th, 14th, 19th, 20th, 2014
2001 Sunset Avenue
Ocean, NJ 07712
This list is by no means complete, so if Santa Claus is visiting your church, business, or community and you would like it listed here, please don’t hesitate to e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org or Tweet @MIKOLAYdotORG.