YOU COULD CALL THEM “I-Never-Went-in-This-Place-Before” Days except that the festivities scheduled for the next couple of weeks around the county already have names. What’s more, if you attend one you won’t need to text, tweet or call friends a few feet away to tell them how much fun you’re having. They’ll already know.
Sociologists have lamented for decades that society has drifted away from core institutions–service clubs, sports leagues, religious organizations, etc.–that once gave communities character and cohesion. These changes have happened less dramatically in Columbia County, though the process hasn’t always weakened the social fabric. These days folks will even admit that the good old days weren’t always so good for everybody.
Meanwhile, we see attempts to establish new traditions on the main streets of communities that have a Main Street. A lot of effort goes into preparing for these events, much of it by volunteers. There’s entertainment to arrange, activities to keep kids amused, decorating and public safety tasks like closing off a normally busy street, as happens in Hudson this Saturday night from 5 to 8 p.m. for Winter Walk on Warren Street. There’s fundraising too, as well as public relations, because whenever crowds gather in public, taxpayers pick up part of the tab.
But these events are all about money, right? It’s the season of Black Friday and Black Thursday Night and Post-Black-Friday Saturday leading up to Cyber Monday, with a tsunami of commercials on TV, radio, the web and through the mail that makes the recent election seem peaceful by comparison.
At the low key end of the holiday sales spectrum are Winter Walk in Hudson, Winter Fest in Chatham Sunday, December 9 from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. as well as Valatie’s WinterWalk Saturday, December 8 starting at 5 p.m. They remind shoppers there are alternatives to gifts made in China as well as to the sensory overload of box stores and endless temptations of buying online. They also raise the question of whether consumers can free themselves from their multiple screens and mall addictions long enough to appreciate local alternatives.
Most of us know the arguments for shopping locally: it supports local jobs; improves the tax base; keeps money circulating here instead of shipping it elsewhere; and it signals to outsiders and residents alike that the community is a lively, desirable place to live and do business. Add to that list the intangible value that comes with exercising our right to assemble peacefully to celebrate whatever we choose at this time of year. Putting the economic aspect of these gatherings aside for a moment, you could look at attending these events as an exercise in citizenship. That, and they’re fun, too.
So yes, shopping is one practical way to celebrate the season, but hardly the only one. Communities all around the county demonstrate each year it’s not just stores that draw a crowd. Copake holds its popular Christmas Light Parade starting at 5 p.m. on Saturday December 8; Copake Falls follows with its Winter Walk and Holiday Open House from 2 to 4 p.m. Sunday, December 9; Kinderhook’s traditional Candlelight Night is Friday, December 14 from 5:30 to 8:30. The list goes on and on. Just check our Events Calendar.
All merchants hope you will spend some of your disposable income with them this time of year. The box stores and the online mega-retailers have the gadgets that dominate our lives and gift lists, and no one expects the small shop on Main Street to compete for that business. But the store with the awning has real, live person behind the counter, somebody you also meet at the bank and the market and when you take the kids to Little League or soccer practice. That person’s store might carry a gift you hadn’t thought of, possibly something a person over 16 years old can learn to use without a brain transplant, a gift that won’t become obsolete six months from now… about a year before you expect to finish paying for it.
What our local merchants hope for this season is that you’ll attend one or more of these celebrations and stop in, look around, say hello. Yes, they’d like you to spend money. No surprise there. But the transaction is about more than that. It’s about shoring up one of the reasons why this is a nice place to live and the small things each of us can do to keep it that way.