Town officials voted unanimously Wednesday night to close Park Street in front of the Congregational Church to motor vehicle traffic for five hours on Christmas Eve.
Though traditional caroling at God’s Acre is canceled this year amid the COVID-19 virus pandemic, the church is holding four outdoor worship services starting at 4 p.m. Congregants will gather under a tent, observing six feet of social distancing and wearing masks.
The Police Commission voted 3-0 in favor of closing the street there starting at 3:30 p.m. for the safety of attendees.
“There will be no caroling, no singing, we are all going to stay in line with the governor’s requests and keep the crowds down, keep the social distancing up,” Chair Paul Foley said during the Commission’s meeting, held via videoconference. “But when you are kind of milling around there in the dark it will be nice to have that street closed so that no one gets clipped by a car coming through too fast.”
Foley and Commissioners Jim McLaughlin and Shekaiba Bennett voted 3-0 in favor of the road closure. It will not require any extra staffing from police, Deputy Chief John DiFederico said.
The caroling tradition goes back more than 100 years, according to the historical record.
The first documented instance of caroling at God’s Acre occurred on Christmas Eve in 1916, according to historian Mary Louise King’s book Portrait of New Canaan, published by the New Canaan Historical Society. At the time, the Civic League—founded six years earlier in 1910—was a prominent group in town, tasked with improving almost every aspect of living in New Canaan, including public health, sanitation and education.
The Civic League was responsible for sponsoring the New Canaan’s inaugural caroling, as a tree donated from neighboring Norwalk was brought to God’s Acre, decorated with ornaments and candles and was for the first time the center of the town’s Christmas Eve celebration.
In 1917, the same year the United States entered World War One, the Civic League bought and planted a Scotch pine tree from Hoyt’s Nurseries—the present-day location of Hoyt Farms Road neighborhood—at the southwest corner of God’s Acre, historians say. As recounted by King, it was New Canaan’s first Christmas tree.
In lieu of the traditional caroling, the Congregational Church is planning four 30-minute outdoor worship services starting at 4 p.m., 6 p.m., 7 p.m. and 11 p.m., the last with candlelight.
“While we will undoubtedly miss out on many Christmas traditions this year, the Deacons have decided to try something new,” the church’s website says. “We hope that you will join us under the ‘Christmas-on-God’s-Acre’ tent this year We will be celebrating outside, 6ft distanced and wearing masks just as we did this summer – subject, of course, to all state and local regulations. Dress warmly and wear comfortable shoes. While we will be unable to sing, we will be able to be in community with one another, listen to wonderful music, and celebrate the Christmas story under the stars.”
The town’s health director is “very comfortable” with what the church has planned, Police Chief Leon Krolikowski said during the Commission’s meeting.
The chief added that officials will ask public works “to put a sign up a flashing message sign to say that caroling is canceled, in case people don’t know and they end up driving up there we are going to get that sign up, contingent on snow conditions and the ability to put it somewhere safe.”