Did You See the Christmas Star?

Dan, wife Christine and Vicki Schneps
Barbara Lassen

Many Dan’s Papers events were cancelled last summer. The Kite Fly. Taste of Two Forks. Dan’s Literary Prize.

I was frantic. I called God in December and said “Please send me a sign.” And he said he’d send the Christmas star. “Make something out of this,” he said.

The Christmas star would appear in the southwestern sky in the Hamptons in the early evening of December 21, which also happened to be the winter solstice. It would be visible from just after dark for two hours until it set over the horizon.

“Best if viewed at the beach,” God had advised.

This would be the brightest star in the sky that night, God explained. Our two biggest planets, Jupiter and Saturn, would line up one behind the other in almost exactly a straight line as seen from the Earth to make them appear as a double-bright star. It had last been seen on March 4, 1226. And it would next be seen from the Earth in 2080.

“Is this the same star the Three Wise Men followed to see baby Jesus in the manger?” I asked.

“They don’t call it the Christmas star for nothing,” he replied.

I decided we could make a Dan’s Papers event out of this. In our December 17 edition, we urged everybody to come to the beaches in the Hamptons to see it. And if you were so inclined, you could get out of your car dressed up as a Wise Man with a lantern and a staff and, with masks and social distancing, follow the star along the beach for a while.

I arranged for there to be music. WLNG 92.1 in Sag Harbor would broadcast a Christmas aria from an Italian opera for 12 minutes beginning at 5:15 p.m., and follow with Christmas carols such as “We Three Kings of Orient Are.” Turn the music on your car radio loud. As for me, I wrote, “I will be at Main Beach in East Hampton.”

For three days prior to December 21, a snowstorm turned the landscape white during the day and black under a cloud cover at night. But then in the afternoon of December 21, as promised, the clouds parted and sunshine filled the sky until sundown, after which, by God, there it was: the Christmas star. My wife Chris, Dan’s Papers President and Co-Publisher Vicki Schneps, and I dressed in white cloaks and hats as the Three Wise Men and drove down to Main Beach at 5 p.m. into a huge melee of maybe 40 cars, plus 100 spectators, dogs, children and adults with binoculars, and some Wise Men with flashlights standing around under the single bright streetlight there marking the end of the road.

It was 32 degrees, no wind. The star was high up and just now visible, and as darkness fell, it got brighter. About 15 minutes later, people shouted as tenor Luciano Pavarotti’s operatic voice came booming out in Italian from the newswagon and on many of the car radios. One man was singing along.

After awhile, two officers arrived in a police car, not because anything was particularly wrong but because they wanted to see what was going on. Plenty of people were parking illegally, in 15-minute zones, in reserved zones, in no parking zones, etc. But the officers never got out of their car. They did look up to see the Christmas star, though. And soon, they left.

Everybody kept looking up at the sky. Men and women carrying staffs trudged down the sand to the water. So did we. We each had a lantern. Nobody else did, but a few people lit their way with their cellphones. We all walked west, toward the star.

The star was at its brightest at 5:30 and was supposed to stay visible until it set at 6, but it disappeared behind a cloud around 5:45 during “Away in a Manger.” We all kept looking at where it had been until, finally, ten minutes later, it suddenly reappeared low on the horizon, smiled, took a one-minute curtain call, then was gone again, this time for good.

As everybody began leaving, a few latecomers arrived to see the star, which wasn’t there anymore.

“Where is it?” Someone getting out of a car asked.

“You missed it,” one of those leaving said.

“Too late, but we loved it. You shoulda been here.”

On the way home I spoke to God about all this.

“It didn’t stay the whole time,” I said. “I gave you what I gave you,” he replied.

“Stop being such a nudnik. Make something of yourself. That’s the deal.” “Yes, sir,” I said.

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