In Newtown, tragedy tinges holiday tradition

 

Newtown

The night Andrei Nikitchyuk came home after 20 young students had been killed at his son's school, he pulled out the family's Christmas tree.

Nikitchyuk and his wife Erin needed to create a distraction. Their youngest child, known as Bear, a third-grader at Sandy Hook Elementary School, had been carrying an attendance sheet down a hallway as the gunman opened fire. A teacher pulled Bear into a classroom and saved his life. Three of his friends had died.

If there was ever a time for a little Christmas, his parents resolved, it was now.

The second thoughts came immediately. How could they celebrate the holidays when so many of their friends were suffering? Andrei became preoccupied with researching gun laws. Erin couldn't imagine shopping for presents when Main Street was log-jammed with funeral processions. For days, the tree stood barren in their living room.

Marking the birth of Jesus has tangled uncomfortably with the sorrow of a community that lost 20 small children and six staff members. There are wreaths of joy, wreaths for mourning. Red ribbons hang on street lamps and a "No Media" sign is posted in front of the Methodist church. The large Christmas tree down the hill from the school is obscured by an ever-swelling cascade of stuffed animals and sympathy cards, coming from places ranging from P.S. 253 in Brooklyn to School No. 46 in Kyrgyzstan.

Andrei felt pushed toward activism. He joined the Brady campaign for stricter gun control and visited Washington to lobby on the issue. When the National Rifle Association called last week for armed security guards in schools, Andrei tweeted that the idea was a "fail."

"I needed to speak out but I hope I'm just the beginning," he explained. "There will be more passionate, powerful voices, but right now, our community is still grieving.''

As the holiday drew nearer, the Nikitchyuks finally strung tinsel on their tree. On Sunday, Erin put on sleigh-bell earrings, then draped a red-and-white scarf around her neck.

"I'm taking the kids to see Santa," she told her husband. "Bear still needs to believe in magic."

His sisters went to the door. Bear, blond-haired and energetic, took his green elf's hat. They jumped into their SUV and their mother began the half-hour drive to the mall.

"Let's hurry," she told them. "Santa closes at 7 p.m."

She drove past the elementary school for the first time since the killings. Bear and his sisters watched through the windows as crowds walked past 26 Christmas trees planted to honor the fallen students and staff members. At the cemetery across the street, someone had hung 26 Christmas stockings. And in the front yard of a nearby house were 26 figures in the shape of angels.

Christmas lights on an office building were strung into the shape of three words common in the Bible: "Faith," "Hope" and "Love."

Erin, she later explained, felt she was racing to preserve Bear's childhood. He is 8 years old and went to three funerals last week. Even when his class met to sing Christmas carols and play in Newtown's old town hall, it could not simply be a gathering of kids being kids. Their teacher came to deliver the jackets and backpacks her students left behind the morning of the shooting.

Bear had overheard conversations about gun buy-back programs, an idea he told his parents he liked. They have hugged him tighter and tighter.

As she drove, Erin steered the conversation back to the holidays.

"What are you going to ask Santa for?" she asked Bear.

He said he wanted a Nerf gun.

She talked to him about how that might not be the best gift in such times. But she also knew he just saw a toy that shot fuzzy darts. It would be used by his friends, not his enemies.

"I think he was struggling with this, because he's wanted a Nerf gun for such a long time,'' Erin said later. "And I realized, a lot of adults who own actual guns might be having the same struggles right now. It's a new way of thinking."

She reminded herself that her son is only 8.

"Why don't you give Santa some options?" she told him.

Erin and her children arrived 13 minutes before the closing of Santa's booth at Danbury Fair Mall. They stood in a line stretching around his workshop, while teenagers clustered around and "Jingle Bell Rock" played over the loudspeakers.

Santa asked Bear what he wanted for Christmas.

"I have a few options, but one is inappropriate,'' he replied. As Erin watched, Bear told Santa the most appropriate option: "A really large Lego set."

Erin exhaled. Earlier this week, she and Andrei had decided their kids deserved big Christmas gifts. They had already splurged on a Lego set based on the "Star Wars" movies. It has nearly 4,000 blocks.

Bear will spend his vacation putting it all together, piece by piece.

News
peopleFrankie Boyle responds to referendum result in characteristically offensive style
News
news
Life and Style
Couples have been having sex less in 2014, according to a new survey
life
New Articles
i100... with this review
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
Voices
Holly's review of Peterborough's Pizza Express quickly went viral on social media
Sport
footballTim Sherwood: This might be th match to wake up Manchester City
Arts and Entertainment
musicHow female vocalists are now writing their own hits
New Articles
i100
News
news
Arts and Entertainment
musicBiographer Hunter Davies has collected nearly a hundred original manuscripts
News
Blahnik says: 'I think I understand the English more than they do themselves'
people
Arts and Entertainment
Michelle Dockery as Lady Mary Crawley in Downton Abbey
TVInside Downton Abbey series 5
Life and Style
The term 'normcore' was given the oxygen of publicity by New York magazine during the autumn/winter shows in Paris in February
fashionWhen is a trend a non-trend? When it's Normcore, since you ask
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Marketing Manager - Leicestershire - £35,000

£30000 - £35000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Marketing Manager (CIM, B2B, MS Offi...

Marketing Executive (B2B and B2C) - Rugby, Warwickshire

£22000 - £25000 per annum: Ashdown Group: A highly successful organisation wit...

SEN Coordinator + Teacher (SENCO)

£1 per day: Randstad Education Leeds: Job Purpose To work closely with the he...

Research Manager - Quantitative/Qualitative

£32000 - £42000 Per Annum: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd: Our client is curr...

Day In a Page

Scottish referendum: The Yes vote was the love that dared speak its name, but it was not to be

Despite the result, this is the end of the status quo

Boyd Tonkin on the fall-out from the Scottish referendum
Manolo Blahnik: The high priest of heels talks flats, Englishness, and why he loves Mary Beard

Manolo Blahnik: Flats, Englishness, and Mary Beard

The shoe designer who has been dubbed 'the patron saint of the stiletto'
The Beatles biographer reveals exclusive original manuscripts of some of the best pop songs ever written

Scrambled eggs and LSD

Behind The Beatles' lyrics - thanks to Hunter Davis's original manuscript copies
'Normcore' fashion: Blending in is the new standing out in latest catwalk non-trend

'Normcore': Blending in is the new standing out

Just when fashion was in grave danger of running out of trends, it only went and invented the non-trend. Rebecca Gonsalves investigates
Dance’s new leading ladies fight back: How female vocalists are now writing their own hits

New leading ladies of dance fight back

How female vocalists are now writing their own hits
Mystery of the Ground Zero wedding photo

A shot in the dark

Mystery of the wedding photo from Ground Zero
His life, the universe and everything

His life, the universe and everything

New biography sheds light on comic genius of Douglas Adams
Save us from small screen superheroes

Save us from small screen superheroes

Shows like Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D are little more than marketing tools
Reach for the skies

Reach for the skies

From pools to football pitches, rooftop living is looking up
These are the 12 best hotel spas in the UK

12 best hotel spas in the UK

Some hotels go all out on facilities; others stand out for the sheer quality of treatments
These Iranian-controlled Shia militias used to specialise in killing American soldiers. Now they are fighting Isis, backed up by US airstrikes

Widespread fear of Isis is producing strange bedfellows

Iranian-controlled Shia militias that used to kill American soldiers are now fighting Isis, helped by US airstrikes
Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

Shoppers don't come to Topshop for the unique
How to make a Lego masterpiece

How to make a Lego masterpiece

Toy breaks out of the nursery and heads for the gallery
Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

Urbanites are cursed with an acronym pointing to Employed but No Disposable Income or Savings
Paisley’s decision to make peace with IRA enemies might remind the Arabs of Sadat

Ian Paisley’s decision to make peace with his IRA enemies

His Save Ulster from Sodomy campaign would surely have been supported by many a Sunni imam