I am relatively new to the town of New Providence. My family and I moved here a little over three years ago from Charlotte, NC, where we were for six years years. For those of you not familiar with Charlotte, it's a sprawling, mid-size Southern city. It's usually toward the bottom of the list of Top 25 US cities by population, but it's there. With New York and Philly as our two closest cities to us here in northern Jersey (both in the top 5 of the population list, by the way), we may not perceive it as a "big" city, but there is no denying that it definitely is a city, not a small town.
Even though I was in Charlotte for so long, I am a true Jersey girl. I grew up in Morris Plains and went to school in Morristown. So when we decided to move back to NJ, I knew that I was coming home. I wanted to make sure we moved back to a small town like the one in which I was raised. A town where you could walk from one end of town to the other if you had to, even though no one really does. A town that had functions like Rotary breakfasts and small-town parades and street fairs. I knew my cousins had grown up in New Providence years ago, and that it fit the good schools and small town bill, so we moved here in the fall of 2006.
The Christmas season came on fast that year for us. With the craziness of moving and settling in, it felt like we barely had time to breathe before we were putting up our tree and lights. We didn't know many people here then, so when my aunt called to tell me that the New Providence Christmas Walk was the Friday after Thanksgiving and we should go, we went. We wanted to take advantage of the small-town things like this that were the reason for our move.
After six years of living in the city of Charlotte, it was that night, at our first Christmas Walk, that I discovered the true joy of coming home. We were only a family of four then. My oldest son was only two and my youngest had just had his first birthday, so we had the double stroller for them, but soon lifted them out onto our shoulders to enjoy the sights. They pointed and laughed as Santa appeared on the roof of the bank and was brought down in the bucket of the fire truck. They clapped along to the high school marching band playing "Santa Claus is Comin' to Town," and looked around in wide-eyed fascination at the crowd who walked behind the truck and the band down the streets of their new home town.
We followed the crowd that night to the lawn of the Presbyterian church where we pet the live animals and gathered around to watch the children perform the story of the first Christmas. There were many memorable moments for me that night, but the one that hit me the most was standing there that night when the town started to sing Christmas carols together on the lawn of the church in front of the live nativity. There was something about singing "Silent Night," along with strangers sandwiched together on a cold night outside of a small-town church that just made me feel like I was home.
I will never forget my feelings from that night. I was almost in tears from being just so happy as we loaded our family back up in the car to head home. After we got back and put the boys to bed, I sat down and emailed all of my friends in Charlotte about this Norman Rockwell experience we had just had. I knew then that this would be a tradition our family would repeat year after year.
Three years and four Christmas Walks later, this small town does not disappoint. I now recognize faces of friends and neighbors as I walk through town and take part in the festivities, though. My sons are now in school and we have our daughter to join in and experience the wonder as well. My parents join us for the Walk every year now, too. In fact, I just learned this year, that they used to come with my aunt and uncle for this experience when they were dating.
I am one of those people who loves music and finds meaning in song lyrics. I had adopted Bon Jovi's "Who Says You Can't Come Home" as my own personal theme song for our move back to NJ in 2006. Every year after we go to the New Providence Christmas Walk, I remember that song and that night. I am able to relive the magic and wonder of feeling a part of a small town again and the absolute joy at realizing that, although this wasn't my childhood home town, it was our new home town that would give us memories and moments like this to just take in and take with us for the rest of our lives.
As one Jersey boy put it:
"It doesn't matter where you are; it doesn't matter where you go
If it's a million miles away or just a mile up the road
Take it in, take it with you when you go
Who says you can't go home."