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Bird Sanctuary’s Annual Winterfest: Tradition in Action

Throughout the holiday season, people celebrate the great traditions of these solemn days. When it is mentioned that the Garden City Bird Sanctuary (GCBS) will be celebrating the traditions of their own holiday, Winterfest, on Saturday, Jan. 9, people usually raise their eyebrows. How can a two-year-old celebration be considered a holiday, or have traditions? You simply “manufacture” a holiday?

The misunderstanding begins with a misconception that is commonly held regarding traditions. The word tradition comes from the Latin traditio meaning “an action of handing over.” People hold onto and pass to the next generation the things they cherish and consider important. People get rid of those things they consider as having no value. While it’s true that some of the traditions during November and December date back hundreds (even thousands) of years, we correctly speak of family traditions that may only be 20 or so years old. Kwanzaa, a celebration of values in African-American culture, was established in 1966. Therefore, traditions don’t necessarily need to stretch out over long periods of time. Remember also, that every tradition has a chronological starting point!

In regard to Winterfest, the idea was inspired by one of Garden City’s most involved and generous citizens, Mr. Rob Alvey. Alvey took a nine acre Nassau County storm-water storage basin and transformed it into a beautiful Bird Sanctuary and Nature Preserve through volunteer efforts that can be enjoyed by generations to come. Alvey gives of himself to so many organizations. He most especially gives the bulk of his efforts to the GCBS, which he both founded and continues to serve as president.

To the Bird Sanctuary’s Board of Directors, Alvey is the living embodiment of the truth that one person can make a difference for the better in this world. Alvey made people realize that the question they should ask themselves is not whether or not they will change the world, but how will they change it, and to what degree. In daily interactions, we affect people who in turn affect others and so on unto the end of time. Winterfest is a celebration of these traits and the Bird Sanctuary’s supporters; “people of good will” is a phrase you will hear quite a lot at these ceremonies! Hence, this holiday held the second Saturday of January, was born on January 10, 2009.

Winterfest begins at 4 p.m. as twilight approaches. As supporters file in, there is warm cocoa to drink as birdfeeders are filled and decorations are put up for our fine-feathered friends. About 4:30, there is a poem recitation around the newly planted trees. Then the event culminates with the Candle Lighting Ceremony in which there is the “Great Telling.” Just as some Native Americans have a ceremony that describes the history of their tribe, the directors tell the story of the GCBS and Winterfest itself.

At Winterfest, the board also remembers the past year’s accomplishments and dreams of the ones to come in 2010, most especially the gala 15th anniversary celebration to be held in June. During the Great Telling you will learn why they start Winterfest at dusk, why they have their holiday in January, why they use green candles, why they express the three characteristics of Winterfest in the Latin language and much, much more! All are welcome on Jan. 9 to the GCBS to discover Winterfest: a modern holiday celebrating timeless ideals! The board hopes to see you there.

Winterfest is offered at no cost to participants and is scheduled for Saturday, Jan. 9 starting at 4 p.m. The service, lasting about an hour, is held regardless of the weather. The main gate to the Garden City Bird Sanctuary is opposite 181 Tanners Pond Road in northwestern Garden City. In 2009, there were about 30 people attending on the snow-covered grounds. The new tradition grows. For more information on the bird sanctuary, visit online at or e-mail This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it .