Christmas at The Met
It is 4:27pm on a December afternoon and the Medieval Sculpture Hall of the The Met is dark and somber. The outer ring of the hall is slightly brighter, only to make the space inside the ring of light even darker. A 20-foot spruce tree is erect, perched on a giant wooden base with a rope circumnavigating the outer perimeter - an untouchable Christmas tree with no presents, no stockings near, and no sign of Santa Clause. A crowd begins to gather and at exactly 4:30pm, the magic begins. This was the first time I had seen the Christmas tree and Neapolitan Baroque Creche, now on view at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. For over 40 years, this impressive and ever-growing collection of 18th-century Neapolitan angels, cherubs, Nativity scene and townspeople has been a New York holiday tradition, made possible by the generosity of the late Loretta Hines Howard and continued by her daughter, Andrea Selby Rossi. I just happened to arrive only five minutes before the actual lighting of the tree was about to take place, and I can't remember the last time my timing was accidentally that perfect.
4:31pm: The music starts and an orchestral version of Silent Night begins to play on the sound system. A soft, blue light begins to glow at the base of the tree and you can see three little figurines: Mary, Joseph and the Baby Jesus in a manger, front and center. The light begins to get brighter as the song ends, which is then followed by Joy to The World. The three Magi are illuminated and the light in the manger grows brighter to a yellow and then to a white hue. Adeste Fideles continues the Christmas story and more sections of the base become visible, showing shepherds and townspeople and animals (even an elephant) making their journey to see a baby who all claim he is the King of Kings. At last, Hark the Herald, Angels Sing boasts its chorus and the 50 angels floating in the tree each individually shine their own halos, revealing these dramatic, heavenly creatures that seem to be caught completely still in mid-air, wind still billowing through their garments.
The amount of detail on each of these angels, especially the placement of their sashes (this is why wired ribbon was invented!) truly looks as though each of these angels is appearing before a humbled man, rushing from the sky above, and hovering mid-flight. And the shopkeepers with their stalls and fruit stands, or the musicians playing their bagpipes, or the old woman sitting in her home, looking out the window and preparing her family's next meal - all of these stories are being told simultaneously and with great Neapolitan flare at the base of the tree. Last but not least, you are then reminded that this is of course only a Christmas tree, as the evenly spaced candles on the tree begin to get brighter and brighter. At the very top of the tree, a magnificent star, made of various shades of gold metals, glimmers above the rest and watches contently over the scene of the first Christmas which it had created (as well as watching the Met onlookers taking it all in).
1. Viewings: The Christmas tree and Neapolitan Baroque Creche will be on view until January 6, 2013 with lightings on Tuesdays, Wednesdays, Thursdays & Sundays at 4:30pm, and on Fridays & Saturdays at 4:30pm, 5:30pm, and 6:30pm. If you want to remember why people celebrate this holiday, I recommend you take an afternoon and enjoy the Christmas story in complete and utter peace.
2. MET Holidays: On Tuesday, December 11, 2012, The MET will host a special event to coincide with the Christmas tree with Christopher Taylor on piano performing Messiaen's Vingt regards sur l'enfant-Jésus - tickets are $45.00. For more information, go to MetMuseum.org
4. The Nutcracker: Another NYC holiday favorite is Balanchine's The Nutcracker, performed by the New York City Ballet in Lincoln Center! Showing now until December 30th, 2012!