News of Otsego County

holiday spirit

Owl-Fresco Crowns Alfresco’s Holiday Explosion

Owl-Fresco Crowns

Alfresco’s Holiday Explosion

At Oneonta Restaurant, Christmas Rules
If you look closely, you’ll see Owl-Fresco amid the branches.

Owl-Fresco, the Christmas Pickle and a creche tucked in a corner are only a few of the hidden gems amid Alfresco’s Italian Bistro holiday decorations this season.

“We want to get people in the spirit,” said owner Elisabeth Webster. “Alfresco’s is not just a place to eat – we want it to be a true evening out. Even if you’re not eating here, you can come in and look at the decorations.”

Preparation at the restaurant, which Elisabeth and husband Gerald have run for 33 years in the former Oneonta Dairy, started Thanksgiving Day when the “Main Tree” – this year, a 17-footer from Filor Farms in Cooperstown – was brought into the dining room and decorated by the Websters and the Alfresco’s staff over the weekend.

“It takes about 50 hours to put everything up,” she said. “And 75 to take it all down.”

There are five trees across four dining rooms, including a black tree covered in Italian masks, a tree themed to the French countryside and a fiber-optic sci-fi tree decorated with “Star Wars” and superheroes in homage, in part, to their son James Cory, who works as a comics illustrator.

This year, they added a new twist on an old Webster family favorite. “We’ve always had owls on our tree, but we brought this one down for the main tree,” she said. “We tell people he’s Rocky’s cousin who decided to stay in the county for Christmas.”

“We call him Owl-Fresco,” said Gerald.

Owl-Fresco, along with the traditional glass German gherkin, is hidden on the tree for diners to try and find among the pizza and Santa ornaments.

For 33 years now, Alfresco’s proprietors Elisabeth and Gerald Webster have been building their annual Christmas display – it’s not to be missed. (Ian Austin/

“Stanislaus, who does our sauce, sends us a beautiful tomato ornament every year,” Elisabeth said.

Friends donated decorations over the years, and Elisabeth often gives away decorations to staff or customers. “We recycle,” she said.

Every corner is filled – an army of nutcrackers overlooks diners from a shelf near the ceiling, and a Lenox china crèche is tucked off the main dining room. Even the outdoors is decorated by Gerald with wreaths and poinsettias from Mount Vision Garden Center.

“We really enjoy going all out at Christmas,” Elisabeth said. “Not everyone has the space to host or decorate but we hope that our efforts help to bring an element of that to those that can’t.”

Diners on Christmas eve will even get a party favor of their own; a traditional “Christmas cracker” with a prize inside. “We always give these away,” she said. “And kids can get a candy cane too.”

The decorations will remain up until mid-January, when the tree will serve a second purpose – protecting the restaurant’s rose bushes, a tradition Elisabeth has carried on from her childhood growing up in Potsdam.

“We used to get made fun of in high school for collecting the trees that others had thrown out,” Elisabeth said. “But my dad – an economist and passionate about his rose bushes – highly suggested we do it; it’s a tradition we continue.”

Monkey Business, Much More, Made Christmas Fun

Monkey Business, Much More,

Made Christmas Fun

Fenimore Museum Dips Into Its Collection
For Cards, Toys, Other ‘Holiday Goodies’
Fenimore Curator Chris Rossi shows off a circus monkey pull-toy in the “Decking the Halls” exhibit, on now through Dec. 31.(Ian Austin/

When people around here think of Christmas, they think of…monkeys?

At least they used to.

“In the 19th century, they were still developing Christmas imagery,” said James Matson, Fenimore Art Museum assistant curator. “Images of animals had a more exotic appeal, and animals like monkeys were associated with the circus, with fun.”

Two such playful monkeys adorn one of the many Christmas cards at The Fenimore’s “Decking the Halls” exhibit, open through Dec. 31.

“It’s something delightful for the holidays,” said Chief Curator Chris Rossi. “It’s been fun to go through the archives to find these unseen holiday goodies.”

The exhibit features ornaments, paintings, toys and illustrations celebrating Christmas not just across the country, but right here in Cooperstown.

Susan Fenimore Cooper wrote about local Christmases in her “Rural Hours,” said Chief Curator Chris Rossi. “She writes about the greenery and gifts, and we thought it would be fun to include her voice in the exhibition.”

She wrote, “Christmas must always be a happy, cheerful day. The fresh and fragrant greens, the friendly gifts and words of goodwill, the ‘Merry Christmas’ smiles on most faces one meets, give a warm glow to the day.”

“Things haven’t changed much,” said Rossi.

Among the Christmas cards in the exhibit is a 1931 example sent out by Edward Severin Clark, Jane Clark’s great uncle, as well as a “Christmas in Cooperstown” contributed by the Afton Historical Society.

“They found it in their collections and were kind enough to bring it our way,” said Rossi. “The timing was right.”

You’ll also see an image of Thomas Nast’s original Santa Claus, in the Christmas 1862 issue of Harper’s Weekly. “Nast is credited with the definitive ideal of how Santa looks,” said Rossi.

Early depictions, Nast’s and others, show him alone making the toys, she said, adding, “We know Santa has elves, but we don’t see them in any of the works in this exhibit.”

Elves, like the famous red velvet suit, came more into prominence in the 20th century.

The card case isn’t the only place a playful monkey is featured. A hearth filled with toys includes one on a pull-string. “The monkey is the hidden theme,” Rossi jokes. “Making the tableaux was the most fun, getting to pick out a mantelpiece and all these toys.”

There’s a teddy bear, of course, and building blocks, as well as an elaborate dollhouse. “Dollhouses were fun to play with, because a little girl could learn about housekeeping and furnishing a home.”

Christmas trees didn’t come into fashion in America until Queen Victoria put one up.

Dried berries made for a festive garland and cotton stood in for snow, with paper cones that could be filled with sweets for the children.

But without electricity, the glow of the tree had to be lit with thin white candles. “You would only light them for a few minutes,” said Rossi. “Otherwise, your whole tree would go up in flames.”

In addition to homemade ornaments, a number of glass ornaments from the late 19th century were brought out of The Fenimore’s collection, as well as silver tinsel trim. “With the candles, it must have looked very bright,” said Rossi.

This year, with no Candlelight Evening – The Farmers’ museums’ usual seasonal centerpiece – “Decking The Halls” is one of the alternatives developed for the Christmas of COVID.

At The Farmers’, Holiday Lantern Tours are being offered, this coming weekend and Dec. 18-19.

“I don’t want to be too modest, but The Fenimore and Farmers’ Museum makes a considerable contribution to how Christmas is celebrated in Cooperstown,” said Matson.

Daddy Al’s Christmas Adventure

Daddy Al’s Christmas Adventure

By LIBBY CUDMORE • Special to

“Daddy Al” and Susan Dick pose in front of their West Oneonta spruce as it was lit up at Rockefeller Center.

When Sue Dick moved into the home here where she and “Daddy Al” raised their family, she often wondered about the Norway Spruce in the front yard.

“I always wanted to decorate that tree,” she said. “But it was always too big and I didn’t have the stuff to do it. But now I’ve finally seen it decorated, and it was beautiful.”

With performances by Kelly Clarkson, the Goo Goo Dolls, Dolly Parton and Earth, Wind & Fire, the Dick family’s 75-foot Norway Spruce was lit as the Rockefeller Center Christmas Tree during the 88th annual celebration on Wednesday, Dec 2.

“We knew that tree was beautiful,” said his daughter Paula. “It was a magical night.”

“This year, we just feel the tree is vital,” said Rob Speyer, president/CEO of Tishman Speyer, which owns Rockefeller Center. “The Rockefeller Center Christmas tree always represents the holiday season, but it has also stood tall as a symbol of hope, resilience, and New York’s enduring spirit, from the Great Depression to 9/11, Superstorm Sandy through today.”

Speaking during the lighting ceremony, he continued, “2020 has been a difficult year, but New Yorkers have persevered, and we are determined to come back better and stronger. We are particularly proud to continue the joyous tradition this year.”

As it happens, the huge spruce was the second from Oneonta: The first, from the Country Club Road yard of Graig and Angela Eichler, adorned Rockefeller Center in 2016.

Following the delivery of this tree to Rockefeller Center Saturday, Nov. 14, “Daddy Al” reported emails, letters, Christmas cards and gifts began to show up at his deli and grocery on Oneonta’s West End.

“I’ve been answering emails all day,” he said. “They come from England, Haiti, Miami, Geneseo. People say I’m inspiring, but I didn’t know that!”

One person sent even a hardcover book about the history of the Rockefeller Center Christmas tree. “They told me they thought I should have it,” he said. “Another person who donated a tree sent me a little book about the tree, and I read it to my grandkids.”

But he had a fair share of detractors too, some who called the tree – it may have arrived in Manhattan after a two-day journey looking a little worse for wear – “the embodiment of 2020” and “The Charlie Brown Christmas tree.”

“The New York Times called me up and asked if I could guarantee the tree would look good,” Al said. “I told them of course it would look good!”

But with the reveal a diminutive Saw-whet owl found among the branches after the 170-mile journey, softer hearts prevailed.

Rocky, as she became known, was rehabilitated and released by the Ravensbeard Wildlife Center in Saugerties. Her image adorned merchandise, memes, a painting by Cooperstown’s May Britt Joyce, a bobble-head and, most recently, the tail of a Frontier Airlines jet.

“We hear owls all the time,” said Al. “But I’ve never seen that one! I don’t know how she got in there.”

Before the tree lighting, the Dicks were taken to dinner and on a tour of the sights, including Top of the Rock and to see the famed Saks Fifth Avenue light display.

“I’d seen it on YouTube, but to see it in person was phenomenal,” said Susan.

And when word got around who they were, they had fans approaching them throughout the evening. “One woman came up to us and said that she had moved to Oneonta in 1982 and now lived in Rhode Island,” said Susan. “She asked if we knew some people that she remembered, and we did!”

The Oneonta tree was covered with more than 50,000 multi-colored, energy-efficient LED lights, and is on display through early January 2021, with COVID regulations, including social distancing, digital queuing, time limits and mask requirements, in place. The lit tree will also will be live-streamed each day from 8 a.m. – midnight.

“It was perfect,” said Al. “Just like we knew it would be.”

Gardeners from Rockefeller Center have already returned to West Oneonta for one round of landscaping and plan to return in the spring to build a new fence and plant apple trees.

And while they were there, they found a small sapling near the site of the former towering tree, likely one of the original pinecones taking root.

BUNN: Holiday Lives Even On Video

Holiday Lives Even On Video

To the Editor:

I just viewed the 4C’s video of Santa and Mrs. Claus arriving at their cottage and lighting the Village’s Christmas tree.

Wow, what a wonderful video!

It was very creative and so well done. Congratulations to you and everyone else who planned and produced it. You can be very proud of it.

“Yes, Virginia, there is a Santa Claus!” I would encourage everyone to Google and read that famous editorial published in The New York Sun newspaper on Sept. 21, 1897, from which this saying was taken. We all need to believe in Santa Claus for hope after this awful year of COVID.

Merry Christmas to all!

Otsego Lake resident


With Santa, Decorate

Downtown Cooperstown


To Learn How You Can Help Area Families This Holiday Season CLICK HERE.

SANTA’S COTTAGE –2 p.m. Decorating Party. Help Cooperstown Committee decorate Santa’s cottage and the village lampposts for the holidays. All decorations provided; please bring wirecutters, gloves, and ladders, if available. Meet in Pioneer Park. Free photo of your family in front of Santa’s Cottage as a thank you. To reserve a pole, email Meg Kiernan, Meet in Pioneer Park, Cooperstown.

FILM SERIES –2 p.m. “The Snows of Kilimanjaro” (1952). Fenimore Auditorium, 5798 NY-80, Cooperstown

CELEBRATE NATIVE AMERICAN MONTH – 1 p.m. Roger Longtoe Sheehan, Chief of the El Nu Abenaki tribe of Vermont, will tell traditional tales and display tools and crafts of Northeastern woodland cultures. Program is free and open to the public. Suny Oneonta College Camp Lodge, 119 Hoffman Rd., Oneonta. For more info call 436-3455 or CLICK HERE.

PROGRAM – 3 p.m. “The Very Greatest Victory: Recognizing Women’s Right to Vote in NY State” with Dr. Susan Goodler. Friends of the Village Library Lecture Series. Village Meeting room, Library, 22 Main St., Cooperstown. Info @ Sunday Programs page

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