On the days after Hurricane Sandy, so much of Toms River was in the dark and powerless, but the one-month anniversary of the devastating storm, the day will be marked by turning on some of the most symbolic lights in town: the Christmas Tree Lighting.
The event is already a symbol for the start of the holiday season. But for many others today's lighting of the Christmas tree serves as another symbol: the return to normalcy.
The agenda for the event is identical to previous years. The event will again take place in the Courtyard between Toms River Township Hall, and the Ocean Co. Library, Toms River Branch.
Festivities begin at 6 p.m. with entertainment, featuring The Bill & Ron Show and The Monsignor Donovan High School Chorus and a reading of Clement Clarke Moore’s “Twas the Night Before Christmas” by Mrs. Claus.
Santa Claus himself will arrive at 7:30 p.m. on a fire truck with members of Toms River Fire Company #1 chauffeuring him to the event.
With many other signature Toms River events canceled, such as the Halloween and Veterans Day parades, in a month the township is seeing fewer cancellations, and the holiday season fills with confirmations that annual traditions are returning.
The impact of tonight's tree lighting will undoubtedly be the spread of holiday cheer, but for the fire house, the event has a financial impact. The tree lighting serves as a major fundraiser for Toms River Fire Co. No. 1 in a time where donations are needed more than ever.
Toms River Fire Co. No. 1 Firefighter Carl Weingroff explains the event is staffed by firefighters and auxiliary members, many of whom were impacted by the storm, to help sell hot chocolate and cookies as part of the fundraiser.
There's also sitting on Santa's lap, and if you'd like to get your picture taken with Santa the fire company is taken donations for the service. You'll get an emailed picture.
Weingroff said the event is both an important fundraiser for the firehouse but also important for bringing some holiday joy in a time when some is desperately needed.
The Christmas tree used in the courtyard was seemingly unaffected by the storm, but in the same courtyard, felled branches and the yellow tape of other repairs remained yesterday as staff busied the area to set up decorations.
The "Peace on Earth" lights are hanging over Washington Street and lighted snowflakes abound. It's just like any other Christmas season downtown.
Toms River Fire Co. No. 1 isn't the only fire company both impacted by the storm and deciding to hold its regular annual fundraisers less than a month after the storm.
Silverton Fire Company, a firehouse that saw the storm's destruction in the form of totaled fire trucks, a firehouse to decontanimate, the work of becoming a hub of post-storm activity, and the devastation to more than a dozen volunteers' homes.
Those volunteer firefighters were out saving lives well their own homes were being swept away by the storm, said Silverton Lt. Michael Cocco.
The firehouse became an impromptu donation drop-off site, overwhelming the firehouse with clothing and food donations it now had to distribute. After that, a major clean-down day was needed to decontaminate it from the salt water of the storm, Cocco said.
None of this would stop Christmas from coming to the Silverton Fire House, Cocco said. The tree sale that so much of the community uses to buy its trees would go on.
"Silverton Volunteer Fire Company is still proud to announce its annual Christmas tree sale," Cocco said. The officers and members of the fire company said we still would like to support the Silverton Community and Toms River area even though Silverton was hit hard from Sandy.
Over 30 members where affected from the hurricane, Cocco said. "but as everyone knows: 'Silverton Strong.'"
Cocco said not having the tree sale, dispute all the difficulty the firehouse faced, would be such a breach to routine and a crush to holiday spirit.
"We don't want to upset are community with no trees this year and Santa Claus. Please let the community know Silverton is proud to announce our annual Christmas tree sale that Hurricane Sandy will never stop the Silverton Fire Company from anything."