May 23, 2018
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Boston Pops’ Christmas a Success

By Sarah Smiley

In July I wrote a column about my family’s experience at the Boston Pops Fourth of July concert. It wasn’t a happy one, even though (or maybe because) I had watched the outdoor concert and fireworks display on television every year since I was a kid, and I had dreamed of being there myself. For me, hearing the Pops live in concert was a highly anticipated event.

And then revelers, many of them drunk, surrounding our family and among thousands of others on the esplanade, mocked the patriotic songs and spoke with such profanity I might as well have kept my hands over my boys’ ears. A young man behind us threatened to beat up the woman in front of us. People shoved and elbowed others to protect the spot of grass they had staked out for themselves. Worst of all, I could barely hear the Pops.

The fact that the main Fourth of July festivities didn’t even begin until 10 o’clock at night should have been my first clue that the evening wouldn’t live up to the family-friendly ideal in my head. But I was so excited to take my boys to see the Boston Pops I didn’t pay attention to the red flags of a night about to go wrong.

My husband, Dustin, and I left the Fourth of July celebration feeling bitter, almost cheated, and definitely soured. If seeing the Boston Pops hadn’t lived up to my childhood fantasy, what else was there?

After I wrote that column, a woman who works for the Boston Pops read it online and then found me on Twitter. She wanted to give our family another shot at what going to see the Boston Pops should be: a thrilling and memorable experience. We were invited to the Pops’ holiday concert, a morning matinee specifically geared toward children.

We attended the show last week during what some weather forecasters said would be one of the 10 worst snowstorms in history. Well-adjusted Northerners know that we have spent more than a year in Maine. My family trudged through the snow in our best holiday attire — and snow boots, hats and mittens. There were a few moments as we made our way through the blizzard to Symphony Hall that Dustin and I wondered whether we should turn around and head home. But no, I was going to Symphony Hall — a childhood dream! I would not let a snowstorm stop us.

When the doors to the hall opened, I smiled at Dustin and said, “I’m at Symphony Hall!” It was just as I had imagined. Long, narrow and rectangular, almost like a shoe box, Symphony Hall is flanked by gilded balconies and 16 Greek and Roman statues, and it is topped with large, round chandeliers that reminded me of fire-crackers. Behind the stage, pipes from the 4,800-pipe organ, considered by many to be the finest in the world, are visible, and on this day, for the holidays, garland and ribbon hung on the wall just below them.

For one hour, my children were mesmerized by the displays and sounds before them. Unlike our previous experience on the Fourth of July, other guests around us were cheerful and filled with the spirit of the season. It was clear that everyone from the conductor to the waiters and waitresses were eager to make this an unforget-table concert for the families. An audience member behind us tapped Owen, 7, on the shoulder and giddily said, “Stand up and look through that door” when Santa was about to appear, and then she delighted at his reaction when Santa came through the swinging doors.

My favorite part of the concert was the Pops’ rendition of “The 12 Days of Christmas,” arranged by Broadway composer David Chase. Mixing in Queen’s “Bohemian Rhapsody,” Beethoven and Mozart, this is not your grandmother’s 12 Days of Christmas. The kids danced in their seats and clapped along. Their favorite parts, however, were the reading of

“’Twas the Night Before Christmas” and Santa’s grand entrance through the doors directly to the right of our table.

After the show, the boys were able to visit with Santa and have their picture taken. The boys are positive it was the real Santa. His jovial laugh, round belly and nose turned red from the cold all were clues to his authenticity.

“Did you see his nose?” Ford, 9, asked. “No one could fake a nose like that!”

And Dustin said, “I know it was the real Santa because he didn’t make us pay to have your picture taken with him.”

Yes, there were “gifts” and memorable moments for everyone. We won’t soon forget our trip to see the Boston Pops at Symphony Hall. What once was a childhood dream for me was a childhood reality for my boys.

Maine author and columnist Sarah Smiley’s writing is syndicated weekly to publications across the country. She and her husband, Dustin, live with their three sons in Bangor. She may be reached at

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