The days leading up to Christmas are typically bustling in Newtown, Conn. But given the depth of grief in this community since the shootings at Sandy Hook Elementary School, preparations for the holiday began very late.
Local shopkeepers say Saturday was the first day many people came out for holiday shopping since the tragedy. Tamara Doherty, owner of the Wishing Well — a shop filled with local crafts, Christmas ornaments, pottery and potpourri — says her business is finally picking up.
She's offering shoppers free cookies in the shape of angels, which have become a symbol of the Newtown tragedy. All the people who wander in seem warm and open.
'Everything Is Magnified Now'
"It's been a friendlier atmosphere," Doherty says. "People ... just reaching out and hugging. It's not something that you would normally do."
Doherty says the shooting has brought people closer — but that it's still very difficult. "Everything is magnified now, because everybody is just so devastated still," she says.
Doherty's daughter, 13, and son, 10, are helping out in the shop, but the tragedy has been hard on them too. Their emotions — like those of so many others — are right on the surface. Doherty has to take a short break to comfort her daughter in the crowded shop, but soon the family is back to ringing up purchases and wrapping presents.
Down the road at the Newtown Youth Academy, it's a day just for kids. There are candy canes, teddy bears, hot dogs and a visit from Mr. and Mrs. Claus to help brighten spirits.
Volunteer Dan Puza heard about the Newtown shooting while he was in Singapore. He's come home this Christmas to be with relatives and to lend a hand.
"It's a tragedy," he says, "but it makes it kind of sweet to see everybody pull together and kind of act as a community during the holiday season."
A Flood Of Holiday Wishes
One need only visit the Newtown post office to grasp how the attack at Sandy Hook has affected people across the country and the world. The postal service has established a special P.O. box specifically for the greetings of support that have been flooding in since the shooting.
"People need to send something," says postmaster Cathy Zieff. "They need to know that they did something [and] the simplest way to do something is to send a card."
Zieff says four of the post office's wire containers, holding about 260 packages each, are filled in a single day. Letters and cards have poured in by the thousands. "It's tremendous, and it's from all over the country, all over the world," she says. "[From] Sicily, Italy. From England. From Hawaii [and] from every state in between."
Zieff says the callers who phone in to ask where they can send things are often crying. She has to comfort them, she says, and then she begins crying, too.
And then there's the toll on her colleagues, she notes.
"My employees, my staff, have watched these kids grow up," Zieff says. "They have pictures of them that the parents have given them. They're part of this community."
Of course, there's always more mail during this season, she says, and the packages are heavier. But that word, "heavier," reverberates with a very different meaning here this year.
Outside a local deli in Sandy Hook, Tim Byrn, originally from Dublin, says he plans to celebrate the holiday, despite the sadness.
"We have a fifth-grader, so yeah, we're going to celebrate it as best we can," Byrn says, wiping a tear from his eye. "Just hold our family close. We just go on."
ROBERT SIEGEL, HOST:
In Newtown, Connecticut, the holiday season has been a time of mourning. Local store owners say this past weekend was the first time many people came out to shop for Christmas.
NPR's Margot Adler visited a crowded toy store and found Newtown residents struggling to celebrate the holiday with some semblance of normalcy.
UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: This store is so cute.
MARGOT ADLER, BYLINE: We've walked into the Wishing Well in Sandy Hook, a lovely shop filled with local crafts, Christmas ornaments, pottery, potpourri. Tamara Doherty, the owner of the shop, says business is picking up.
TAMARA DOHERTY: It's been a little delayed, obviously. I mean, this is the first, you know, real day that people seem to be shopping.
ADLER: There are free cookies in the shape of angels, which have become a symbol of the Newtown tragedy. And all the people who come in seem warm and open.
DOHERTY: It's been a friendlier atmosphere, you know, people that, you know, are just reaching out and hugging. It's not something that you would normally do, but, you know, I think it's definitely brought us closer. It's difficult, you know? Everything is magnified now 'cause everybody is just so devastated still, so...
ADLER: Doherty's 13-year-old daughter and 10-year-old son are helping in the shop today, but it's been hard on them too. And with the crowd, everyone's emotions are right on the surface.
DOHERTY: Don't cry, sweetie. I have to help her.
ADLER: But soon, the family is back to taking money and wrapping presents.
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "WE WISH YOU A MERRY CHRISTMAS")
UNIDENTIFIED GROUP: (Singing) We wish you a Merry Christmas. We wish you a Merry Christmas. We wish you...
ADLER: At the Newtown Youth Academy, it's a day for kids, and a very special couple dressed in red.
UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: Hi. I'm Mrs. Claus. My husband's here somewhere. I don't know.
DAN PUZA: You know, you walk in. There's - they're giving away candy canes. I think hot dogs just arrived.
ADLER: Volunteer Dan Puza heard the news of the Newtown shootings while he was in Singapore. He's come home to be with relatives this Christmas and to lend a hand.
PUZA: You know, it's a tragedy, but it makes it kind of, you know, sweet to see everybody pull together and kind of act as a community during the holiday season.
ADLER: But if you want to understand how this tragedy has impacted people all over the country and the world, just visit the Newtown post office.
CATHY ZIEFF: Because people need to send something. They need to know that they did something. The simplest way to do something is to send a card.
ADLER: The postmaster is Cathy Zieff. They have a special P.O. box just for mails that sends greetings of support for this community.
ZIEFF: We have four - what they call cages or wire containers that hold probably 260 packages, just one day. It's tremendous, and it's from all over the country, all over the world: Sicily, Italy; from England, from Hawaii, from every state in between.
ADLER: And letters and cards, thousands more every day. Zieff says the callers who phone asking where they can send things are often crying. And she has to comfort them, and then she begins to cry. And then there are her coworkers.
ZIEFF: My employees, my staff have watched these kids grow up. They've got pictures of them that the parents have given them. They're part of this community.
ADLER: There's always more mail during the season, she says. The packages are heavier. The word heavier reverberates with a very different meaning here. Outside a local deli in Sandy Hook, Tim Byrn, originally from Dublin, says he does plan to celebrate the holiday.
TIM BYRN: We have a fifth grader, so, yeah, we're going to celebrate it as best as we can, you know, just hold our family close.
ADLER: That's something that everyone in this community seems to be doing. Byrn, like so many of the people we've interviewed, wipes a tear from his eye.
BYRN: We just go on.
ADLER: Margot Adler, NPR News, Danbury, Connecticut.
SIEGEL: This is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.