Driving through the park a few weeks ago, I couldn't help but notice the last display you see on the way out of Capital Holiday Lights in the Park. It says, "And to all a good night!" That stuck with me.
There are many reasons why I don't want Washington Park in Albany to lose Capital Holiday Lights in the Park. But none greater than the sentimental value it holds, not just for me, but for the thousands who visit it every year. Recently, we took one final drive through the lights, and while it was fun, it felt a bit different.
When my son Brody was 2 or 3-years-old, a few times a week I would trek across the river into Troy on late afternoons to get from daycare and bring him back to my home in Albany near Washington Park.
Brody's mom and I co-parent together, and to this day, both households go a few days a week without seeing him. When Brody was much younger, there were days that I felt like he and I weren't as connected as I would have liked - and I would beat myself up over it.
Over time I would learn that in most instances, it doesn't matter how much skin-to-skin you do, or how many bottles you feed, dads just don't bond as quickly with the child as mom does. Overall Brody handles the back and forth really well, but some days it really weighed on him - and me.
Anyway, I'm telling you this because, on certain days when I'd pick Brody up from daycare in Troy, I could see in his face he was a little bummed he wasn't going home with his mom. That's a kick to the gut, but you deal with it. But that's on me, he's a kid.
So like any parent, I started searching for something to do - one thing - anything - to keep Brody engaged. Needless to say, many of those car rides were filled with silly songs, fart noises, make-believe stories about zombies and dinosaurs, McDonald's nuggets, toys - whatever it took.
One late November afternoon at pickup, Brody was really "off" and he wasn't having it, but I thought if I could just make him a little happy on our way back to Albany, everything would be okay.
Thankfully, the holiday lights in the park were up and I told Brody there was an early Christmas surprise from Santa near Daddy and Sammy's house. I could tell he liked where this was going and was pretty excited to see what I was hyping up.
That late afternoon, I took the long way through the park so we could see as many of the lights as possible. It's something area residents know to do - you can pretty much circumvent the entire park - and see a lot of them without actually driving in. And that's what we did.
Capital Holiday Lights in Park had just opened for the season and their display in Albany's Washington Park was a welcomed sight to a city that if I'm being honest, can be a bit dreary at times.
And Brody loved it.
I put on some Christmas music, and we drove around and around, looking at as much of the display as we could see from the roads.
Brody's chubby little fingers pointing out the window the whole time at the reindeer, the swans, the big teddy bear, he was soaking it all in.
My girlfriend Samantha, Brody, and I would pay to drive through a few times that winter - and it kind of became our thing. Sometimes, Grammy and Papa would go through with us too and we loved it. Brody's excitement made us feel like kids again - just for a few moments.
Over time, whenever Brody was in my Jeep and we were in the park, he'd ask about the display. "Are the lights turned on in the park, Daddy?" he would ask. It didn't matter the season or time of year, we always looked forward to being able to tell him they were just a few weeks ago.
This year, just a few weeks before it was set to open, Capital Holiday Lights in the Park announced that after its 25th season, the lights will no longer be in Albany's Washington Park. It's unfortunate for many that Mayor Sheehan and Albany's PAL (who run the lights) could not work something out to keep it in Albany.
Not only are the lights one of the few attractions (outside of concerts) that people will drive into the city for, but they also just look nice. Albany actually looks festive and bright for about 6 weeks a year. Imagine that.
A few weeks ago, Brody, Samantha, and I took our final drive through the Holiday Lights in the Park and we enjoyed it, but I was feeling somewhat melancholy. Maybe it's just me, but the negative press from the city about the annual event seemed to cast a dark cloud over it and it didn't have the same feel.
Also, while buying the tickets ahead of time proved to be a good move from a flow of traffic perspective, there were almost no cars in line meaning we whizzed through the first 1/4 of the display before we showed our tickets.
From start to finish, we were maybe inside the park for a total of only 10-15 minutes, and we made the most of it, but I'd be lying if I told you I wasn't a little emotional as we neared the end.
For 25 years, Albany's Christmas tradition was Capital Holiday Lights in the Park and now the city is pulling the plug, but it will resurface as some other part of town will scoop it up for sure. But it won't be the same for me.
The lights hold sentimental value for me mainly because they mattered to Brody. When he needed a little comfort, the lights did that for him. And when he missed his mom or was a little cranky, they cheered him up.
I guess they did that for all of us, for 25 years.
The last thing you see when you drive through the lights in the park is a display that reads "And to all a good night!" Quite fitting considering how many Capital Region families had many good nights, because of those lights.
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