STILLWATER TOWNSHIP, NJ – A light mist put a damper on the attendance, but not the holiday spirit, at the Stillwater Recreation Commission’s tree lighting ceremony on Sunday.

“Last year we had 100 people,” one organizer said, looking around at the dozen or so who were standing in the rain, or ducking inside the Swartswood Firehouse for a cup of hot chocolate.

The recreation commission bought boxes of hot chocolate mix, and candy canes for the anticipated crowd.

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Nevertheless, the tree was lighted at 7 p.m. and looked festive in the rain.

“There are lights and a tree and people, so it’s a success,” the organizer added.

Mayor George Scott did not make a speech, since most attendees had worked on the lighting and were getting wet, but inside the firehouse later, he said if there had been a crowd and a more dry evening, he would have said publicly, “our hopes and prayers are going out on behalf of the township to the folks of Newtown, Connecticut.” 

He added the tragedy was amplified both by the fact so many of the victims were children, and by the proximity to Christmas.

Committeewoman Anita Straway asked some residents to share their favorite Christmas traditions as a way to lighten up the mood. She said she particularly enjoys baking for the holiday, because “the house smells so good and the family all sits around and enjoys the food.”

She noted her family is spread out geographically, so they rarely have time to all get together.

Recreation Commission Chair Tina Sugar said she and her son decorate their tree then watch the movie “The Polar Express,” “because it’s a story of believing.”

Straway asked the others present to name their favorite Christmas movie and the majority said,  “A Christmas Story.”

Sugar said she has already received the best Christmas present possible. Her godchild, who is also her grandniece, was born prematurely on July 19 of this year, and has had to have a tracheotomy tube for breathing. The day of the tree lighting the tube was removed, she is breathing on her own, and Sugar said she could not imagine anything better for Christmas. The baby’s name is Antina, after Sugar and her husband, Anthony. She showed off baby pictures on her smartphone.

Sugar also said she generally has 30 to 40 people over for Christmas.

Scott said his family celebrates the day after Christmas with his mother-in-law, who is 100-years-old, and still lives alone in Vernon.

“We do it the day after, so nobody has any excuses for not being there with her,” he said.

Various family members often have other commitments on Christmas Day, he noted.

The other major event the recreation commission runs each year is Stillwater Day. In 2013, the date will be Saturday, June 15. The commission meets on the first Monday of each month at 7:30 p.m., at the township municipal building in Middleville.

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