First Light celebration brings community together through holiday festivities



Student musicians perform at the Brookline Booksmith as part of the First Light celebrations.

By late November, Brookline is already dark at five o’clock in the evening; tonight Washington Street is sprinkled in lights. Fairy lights are strung across trees and children walk with one hand holding onto their parents and the other grasping a spinning light-up toy. The First Light Celebration certainly lives up to its name.
In Brookline, the holiday season doesn’t truly start until First Light. Every year, right at the cusp of winter, people participate in a night of activities and togetherness. Local businesses in Brookline Village, Coolidge Corner, and Washington Square will open their stores later in the night and set up arts and crafts, games, and shows for everybody to enjoy.
For many local businesses, the First Light celebration has always helped bring them closer to the community together celebration, art, and festivity.
Veteran businesses of First Light like Brookline Booksmith in Coolidge Corner, continue to contribute and gain a lot from the celebration. Upon walking into the bookstore, music fills the ears of customers. Students from the Brookline Music School stand by the shelves and play lively, festive music. The sounds of the single flute and two violins are heard over the din of people wandering in and out of the store and throughout the warmly lit aisles.
Peter Win, co-owner and manager of Brookline Booksmith, said that the musicians were a new addition to the store’s celebration of the event last year. According to Win, the music draws more people into the bookstore and adds a festive touch to the evening’s atmosphere.
Win said that, in general, First Light is a great way to bring families out into Coolidge Corner during a time when it gets dark early and many families stay home instead.
“It encourages them to visit lots of different stores in Coolidge Corner, so it’s a fun atmosphere out on the street,” Win said. “It’s not quite a street fair, but it’s kind of close to it. Just having that many people around in a fun, celebratory atmosphere on what would otherwise be just a Thursday night.”
For many other participating businesses, this atmospheric trend stays true.
Henry Bear’s Park in Washington Square is absolutely full of life, with people chatting and laughing between the shelves of brightly-colored boxes and toys. Children are running around, crafts in hand, playing with games set out for the night. The happiness is contagious; it is impossible not to fall for the sheer joy in the room.
“My favorite aspect would probably just be the excitement, the number of people around, and getting to give kids a bunch of fun things to do. I think that’s always a good move. I mean, if you look around right now, how many happy kids do we have just milling about?” Suzanne Bielawski of Henry Bear’s Park said.
Bielawski said that they are currently having children decorate paper lanterns with stickers, markers, and paint as a way to incorporate light into their celebration, especially since it is dark outside and the lanterns make all the children brighter and more visible.
While it is primarily shops and businesses that participate in the First Light celebration, Brookline High School contributes to the evening as well. The school’s three a cappella groups and Camerata Choir perform throughout the night.
This year, for the second year in a row, the Makery hosted students in their shop for a lively performance. The Makery, off of Harvard Street, is Brookline’s own maker space and workshop hidden away in a small brick alley. During First Light, the Testostatones, Note-a-fy, Perfect Pitch, and BHS’s new Glee Club performed a few songs each in the cozy first room. The small room was crammed with folding chairs, and a makeshift “stage” illuminated by lamps and overhead lights was set against the brick wall in the back.
Manny Cabanas and Hayley Greenberg, owners of the Makery, welcome the singers from BHS with pride. Both Cabanas and Greenberg said they were involved with the school in the past, especially within the performing arts, and that they are happy to be able to hear the school’s beautiful singers again.
In addition to the music, both Cabanas and Greenberg enjoy the community aspect of First Light, and what it brings to their new business.
“It’s just getting to know the community, and having people come in and discover us and us discover them and what they want out of their community maker space here,” Greenberg said.
For Cabanas, it’s the relationships built that are meaningful.
“You also get to see old faces and new faces,” Cabanas said. “We know kids that were toddlers and now they’re in the singing group and they’re all grown up, so that’s always really a fun thing to see.”
Of course, for everyone involved in the celebration of First Light, the most important thing is being able to come together and spread joy throughout the community.
“Everyone leaves with a smile,” Cabanas said.