Greetings dear friends and thoughtful readers and welcome back for our annual Christmas visit here on the Front Porch, where we are bidding farewell to fall, welcoming winter, and doing our best to keep the yuletide bright. The sun rose this morning at 7:10 and will set at 4:21 p.m. which means tomorrow, Tuesday, Dec. 21, will be the shortest day and longest night of the year.

Yes, 'tis Winter Solstice time and beginning tomorrow, the days will begin to lengthen ... even as they grow colder. As cold as it may grow, here's a fun way to keep warm and a good way to add some extra cheer to your holidays: snuggle up in a cozy blanket and have your mom, dad, BFF or sweetheart drive you around to see the dazzling light displays dazzling houses and yards throughout our villages and towns. Don't forget a drive down Moss Street in Pawcatuck and definitely include the Stonington Lobster Trap Tree, which "has gone viral" according to the Ocean Community Chamber of Commerce, and was featured on the BBC News' Instagram page one day last week and in a story in the Boston Globe.

Let's start off this week with a very happy birthday to Alice Bliven of Westerly, who will celebrate her 100th trip around the earth on Dec. 23. Happy birthday, Alice! I hope Santa is especially generous to you on this landmark birthday!

We were sad to hear of the passing of former Sun co-publisher and Sun Graphics chief, Nick Utter, whose family published the first edition of the Westerly Sun in 1893. Our condolences to his family and to his classmates from the Westerly High School class of 1966 who always kept him close.

If you're name is Tony or Maria, you're in for a rare holiday treat from the United Theatre. The United is offering free admission to film lovers named Maria or Tony for the newest version of "West Side Story," directed by Steven Spielberg, the second full-length film adaptation of the iconic Broadway show to made into a movie. As many fans know, Tony and Maria are the two star-crossed lovers in the story which is based on Shakespeare's "Romeo and Juliet," and two of the main characters in the movie. Marias and Tonys are invited to watch the movie in the United's Balcony Cinema on Dec. 22 or 29, or Jan. 5. 

Shout out to lifelong Westerly resident Charlie Holdredge, who was honored during the annual Stonington-Westerly football game for his 32 years as announcer for the football games.   

Let's hop on over to Stonington now for a shout out to Tom Rezendes of Tom's News in the borough. As our friend Maris Frey, the Stonington Free Library's director of youth services points out, Tom is "a local icon," who more than deserves "a little press pat on the back." Each year, Maris told us, Tom places a bucket on the counter of his Water Street shop so customers can make donations to a local nonprofit organization. This year, he donated the proceeds of the bucket — $1,637 — to the Stonington Free Library to help fund its children's programming. It was the second time that Rezendes has donated the proceeds to the library to benefit the children's reading program. Last year he donated $1,100.

"We are so very grateful to Tom for designating the Youth Department at the library and thankful to all of the generous people who contributed to his kind gesture," Maris said in a recent email. "We have many wonderful ideas about how we can use this money to improve our services to the youth in our community and believe Tom is a true pillar of our community." Maris said the $1,637 will be used to fund software used for online registration for children's programs and to help fund the library's popular summer reading programs for children.

In true children's librarian fashion, Maris said the following line from the children's book, "Wonder," by R.J. Palacio, sums things up well: "Everyone in the world should get a standing ovation at least once in their life." Here, here!

And here's some good news from our friends at Stand Up For Animals. Executive Director Deb Turrisi told us that SUFA has been selected by the local Stop & Shop store leadership for the "Stop & Shop Community Bag" program for the month of January 2022 which means SUFA will receive $1 for every $2.50 spent on the purchase of a reusable "Community Bag." So, said Deb, you can "reduce single-use plastic in the environment and give back to those in need in the local community, all while running routine weekly errands."

“It’s more important than ever to help reduce single-use plastic in the environment,” she said. "Non-profits at the local level, like us, are in need of community support. This program offers the perfect solution to multiple issues of the world today. We hope you’ll support us in January 2022 by purchasing one — or two! — Community Bags at our local Stop and Shop!” 

Well dear readers, I’ll be taking off next Monday for the holiday, so Merry Christmas and Happy New Year one and all and remember please, get boosted as soon as possible, continue to keep your social distances, mask up, wash your hands, stay safe, be kind, and may the spirit of this lovely season stay with you all year! Ciao bella!

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