Once upon a time on a cold night in NYC in 1938, the Salvation Army was joyously serenading New Yorkers outside the infamous 21 Club on West 52nd Street. Upon seeing the musicians (and their Santas) braving the elements to help the needy, the owners of the tony establishment invited the band in to the restaurant to get warm and enjoy a bowl of hot soup. To express their gratitude for the lovely sentiment, the Salvation Army band offered to entertain 21’s diners with a few Christmas carols. The owners, then in return, and in keeping with the spirit of The Salvation Army’s quest to assist the needy, offered to pass a hat around the dining room. (At the time, the only hat that was available was a top hat – I LOVE that part of the story.) And so a tradition was born.
And for more than 40 years, the present leader of the band, Deborah Evans, (whose grandfather played at the very first 21 Club performance in 1938) is still entertaining 21’s Christmas crowd each year. I did notice this year that a tambourine has now replaced the infamous top hat(oh, well.) And credit card readers are also now on hand for those who don’t have any cash on hand. That band knows how to play that crowd, for sure.
After a wonderfully selected three course prix-fixe dinner of ’21’ classics, the red jacketed brigade band still marches through the dining room, led by Santa, as the waiters hand each patron a Christmas Carol book, and then the fabulous sing-a-long begins. It is so heartwarming to see people of all ages, joyfully singing along to all time Christmas favorites. The rouse of that 21 crowd is the perfect dose of Christmas, and after joining in on these festivities for many years now, it is an evening that I look forward to all year long.
The wide eyes of a sweet child singing Jingle Bells, whilst eating oysters in fancy dress, long after bedtime, is a lovely sight to see. And then watching the appreciation of all the guests as that tambourine is being passed, is a wonderful reminder of the true meaning of Christmas. The Salvation Army never asked to be invited to the party, but the party would not happen without them or their unwavering devotion to meet the needs of the less fortunate. And the amount of children that have since been given the gift of Christmas as a result of that blistering snowy night so many years ago, is an enchanting testament to the work of all those special Santa’s that still continue to ring those bells. And so another child’s Christmas is as sweet.