Holidays take on a different meaning Since Sept. 11, Christmas just not the same for Weehawken residents

It might have been beginning to look a lot like Christmas around Weehawken last week, with the hustle and bustle of holiday shopping.

But it appears as if the Christmas season just won’t be the same this year for local residents, ever since the tragic events of Sept. 11 that have changed Americans’ lives forever.

Taking a sampling from some local residents outside of the Tower Shopping Mall on Park Avenue in Weehawken, the sentiments are that the holiday season has definitely been altered by the World Trade Center tragedy.

"It is very different," said Margo Bruton, who owns a catering company. "I think everyone is going for the more modest holiday this year, much smaller and more low-key. I know my business is way down. Corporations and companies are not spending money for big holiday parties. I think a lot of it stems from the recent recession, but I also think that the tragedy has made people change their focus."

Added Bruton, "I think this holiday has been more family oriented, that people just want to spend time with their families. They’re spending less all around and everything has been downsized."

It’s been a particularly tough holiday for Rafael Gomez, who lost his job as a laborer at Liz Claiborne in North Bergen two months ago.

"It’s much different for me this year, because I don’t have a job," said Gomez, who is married and has three children. "I think it’s different for a lot of people, because I know a lot of people who have been laid off. So it’s been real tough on a lot of us. But we’ll try to make it a happy and peaceful Christmas. We’ll try to make it through. But I know there’s a different feeling this year than other years."

Leo Rodriguez works in the Pathmark at Tower Plaza. He can sense the difference in people as they come into the store.

"There’s definitely a different atmosphere," Rodriguez said. "It feels different now. The world has changed, the area has changed, people have changed. I don’t know if we’ll ever be the same. But there is a spirit that is still there. I think we all realize that because of what happened in New York, you never know when it can all come to an end. You have to spend each day like it’s the last. Because of that, maybe we can all make Christmas more special this year, give it more meaning."

Edwin Ortiz believes that people will rally together through the holidays, much like they did in the days following the attack.

"You saw so many people on television, willing to do anything to help their fellow brothers and sisters," Ortiz said. "I think we all were touched by what happened at the World Trade Center. I lost two good friends and I miss them terribly. But we’ll all get together to get through Christmas. I will help my friends’ families and I will help my family. I think if we all take the time to help each other during the Christmas holidays and the New Year, then we will be fine."

Added Ortiz, "Sure, there will be time for sadness, because so many people will be missing members of their families for Christmas. But there is time to be happy as well. We’re all still here and those people are still in our hearts and minds. We need to all get together for Christmas, be there for each other. That’s my hope for Christmas."

Marilyn Fay is hoping that the war against terrorism in Afghanistan is a quick one.

"It’s been a particularly tough year for all of us, but the biggest thing on my mind right now is getting that war over and getting those kids back home," Fay said. "It’s the first topic of conversation I get everywhere, in the stores, on the ferry. It’s what people want to talk about. I think we all want peace on Earth for this Christmas, now more than ever."

Fay was asked if the Christmas season had a different feel this year.

"I know I’m really not into it, and I know a lot of other people who feel the same way," Fay said. "I guess there are different schools of thought."

Weehawken Superintendent of Schools Kevin McLellan said that the holidays should take on a different meaning this year.

"I think we all should exemplify what Christmas truly means, the spirit of Christmas," McLellan said. "I think it’s a season to reflect on helping one another cope with what we’ve been through, that we should try to spread good will to all. I think that’s the greatest challenge this Christmas, that maybe we could prevail even better than ever. Maybe we can all show some more kindness to each other this year more than ever and truly have peace for all."


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