The Avenue L Manger

by: Douglas Grant

Day 6 of our 12 days of holiday stories brings us back to a fortuitous meeting which occurred on Christmas in 1985, and the event which arose from this encounter….

 A transcript taken from the Channel 9 News archive:

December 24, 1989

Anchorman Silas Whitfield: We go now to Veronica Luz, reporting live from Avenue L and 23rd Street.

Luz: Thanks, Silas. I’m coming to you live from St. Mark’s Lutheran Church here in the downtown area, where a once simple nativity scene has over the years blossomed into a local phenomenon. What you see behind me is a coming together of the community in the spirit of the holidays, which all started five years ago, when the man next to me, Eddie Boyle, brought his family here when he had nowhere else to go. Eddie, tell us what happened on that Christmas Eve five years ago.

Boyle: Well, I was out of work and we had just been evicted from our apartment only a few days before. My daughter here was only a toddler back then, and we were cold and hungry. All the local shelters were filled to capacity, and we didn’t know where to go. My wife and I stopped here because it was peaceful, and we needed to contemplate our next move. It wasn’t our intention to stay here the night, but thanks to the kindness of Mary and Joseph, that night changed our lives.

Luz: Eddie is referring to two of this neighborhood’s citizens, who have played Mary and Joseph here at St. Mark’s for many years now, and who wish to remain anonymous. Nevertheless, when the church’s caretaker came to send Eddie and his family on their way, it was Mary and Joseph who dissuaded him from running them off. The rest is history. Eddie, fill us in.

Boyle: Well, everyone knows from the story of Christmas that Mary and Joseph were turned away at the inn and found sanctuary in the manger due to the kindness of a stranger. So I think our own Mary and Joseph followed this example and showed us kindness when no one else would. My wife and I spent the night with them talking and exchanging stories, while they shared hot chocolate from their thermos with my daughter. We know that they weren’t signed on to work the entire night through the morning, but they chose to stay with us and spend Christmas with us. It was around three in the morning, while we were singing Christmas carols, when the people started showing up. We began to attract a crowd.

Luz: Let’s move the clock forward a year. Tell us what about Christmas Eve in 1985.

Boyle: Well, by then things had gotten better for us. I was back on my feet, working full time, and we’d found a place to live. We came back here to not only to repay their kindness, but also because there were no two people on Earth we’d rather spend Christmas with. My wife baked a bunch of cookies and pastries, and we brought thermoses full of coffee and hot chocolate. Just like the year before, we sat up all night talking and caroling.

Luz: And then what happened?

Boyle: There were a few down on their luck families who came and passed the time with us. My wife made a few repeat trips to our apartment and the store to replenish the food. We got to know everyone very well, and there was a strong sense of community about it. I knew then that this had turned into something really special.

Luz: Special indeed. As you at home can see, the scene behind me has all the bustle of a county fair. As we move through this dense crowd, you’ll find a wide array of holiday refreshments being shared with the crowd. Over here this stand we have a family giving away decorated brownies, and this gentlemen to my left is dispensing his home-made eggnog from an old family recipe. Now don’t be confused; although this gathering has all the appearances of local commerce, the festivities here are not business as usual. Everything you see around me is being shared with the masses, and everyone who comes here has made a contribution in one way or another. Over here on my right you’ll find a canned food drive, a clothing drive, and even a stand with pre-wrapped gifts for under privileged children from low-income households. There’s a strong sense of community here, but as you might imagine, this gathering might have the potential to attract undesirables. Here with me now is Officer Stephen Drake from the police department. Officer, what can you tell us about the security that goes into making an annual event such as this safe for the public?

Drake: Well this event does carry with it an official permit from the city. Residents of this neighborhood have signed off on it every year since it started gaining so much momentum. Avenue L has been closed to traffic between 22nd and 23rd Streets, and we have officers providing security both throughout and around the perimeter. This is an alcohol free zone, and anyone appearing suspect in any way will not be admitted.

Luz: Have there been any incidents over the years?

Drake: Surprisingly, the rate of incidents is very low. We’ve had problems with petty theft and public intoxication in the past, but on a very minor scale. The people who come here seem to know the score, and we’ve had very little in the way of troublemakers to deal with. Even some of our homeless suffering from mental illnesses seem to be at peace here. And they find ways to make contributions as well, whether it’s working in the mobile soup kitchen tent over here or joining in on the caroling. And although this all stems from a nativity scene, we have participants from both Hebrew and Kwanzaa traditions, as well as some from the smaller religious sects. City hall was a little apprehensive about the exponential growth of this thing when it all started, but now it’s been embraced as a pillar of the community. People come together here every year, and there’s an undeniable sense of family created by the bonding. I see no reason why this shouldn’t continue for many years to come.

Luz: Thank you for your time, Officer. Now for those of you back at home, it might seem a daunting task to navigate your way through all of the pathways created by the kiosks. But as I work my way toward the center, you’ll find this beautiful Christmas tree here that’s been adorned with decorations from citizens from all over the city. And here we have the manger where it all started. Eddie, would you like to introduce us to your lovely family.

Boyle: This here is my beautiful wife, Valerie, this little lady here is my daughter, Joanie, and this is the newest addition to our family, baby Jeanette. Because we’re part of the origin story of this congregation, we’re looked to as the directors of this event. But this thing is really in the hands of the people. My family is humbled by the sheer magnitude of this festivity, and that includes all the goodwill and generosity that comes with it.

Luz: And a lovely family it is. Standing just behind the Boyles are the original Mary and Joseph, who have respectfully declined to comment, but nevertheless it was their generosity this day five years ago that set events into motion that have led to the heart-warming scene you see all around me. And although it often seems as though these are troubled times, it’s quite an inspiration to find a place where there is still peace on Earth, and goodwill toward men. For Channel 9 News, I’m Veronica Luz.

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