The Queens Botanical Garden staff welcomed community members and children inside their gates as they celebrated their 2015 Winter Solstice and Tree Lighting Celebration. According to Regina Forlenza, the visitor services and public programs manager, this is the fifth year that the botanical garden has had this event. “It’s a way of giving back to the community since most parts of the celebration are free,” said Forlenza.
Peter Sansone, the garden supervisor for Queens Botanical Gardens, has been dressing up as Santa Claus and taking pictures with Queens residents of all ages for over four years. Each person that takes a picture with Santa receives a free candy cane with their photo. Approximately 1300 candy canes will be given out this year.
In addition to taking photos with Santa, kids got the opportunity to make botanical craft items to take home for Christmas.
Julia, 6, makes a Christmas ornament using a tangerine, cloves and reddish-purple ribbons. She said that it can be used as a Christmas tree decoration and it only took her 10 minutes to make it.
Samantha, 4, decided to make a candle for Christmas. She took a layer of wax and rolled it around a piece of white string.
The attendees were also entertained by the comical harmonies of an a capella choir called “The Rough Dozen.” They performed their own renditions of classic Christmas songs such as “Silent Night,” “Rock Around The Christmas Tree” and “The Christmas Song.” Humorous numbers that they performed were “You’re a Mean One, Mr. Grinch,” sung by Carnell Angel, and “Santa Baby,” sung by David Burkard, the choir’s maestro.
David Burkard, 25, maestro of the a capella group “The Rough Dozen,” leads the 10- member choir as they serenade attendees. Members of the musical group include: Peter Thomas (a.k.a Legend), T.J. Cusack (a.k.a. The Professor), Reinard Bukalan (a.k.a. Beat Catcher), Joey Spitalieri, Kevin Arora, Carnell Angel, Shawn Ho, Carlos Ponce and Chris Sanges. This is their fourth year performing at the Winter Solstice Celebration.
Once the performances ended, everyone gathered around in Cherry Circle as Santa Claus and “The Rough Dozen” engaged the crowd in one last Christmas song before they counted down to the lighting of the Queens Botanical Garden Christmas tree.
With about 5000 Christmas lights, the 21-foot organic Christmas tree from Vermont shined brightly for the first time around 5 p.m. This marked the end of the celebration.