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On a tropical christmas in New York, traditions melt away

NEW YORK >> As she stood before the ice skating rink at the center of Bryant Park, dressed as Mrs. Claus in a red velveteen outfit, trimmed with white faux fur, Alejandra Silva was the picture of Christmas — in Miami.

The dress was thigh-length, sleeveless and skin tight, and still, on the night before Christmas, she was overheating.

“I’m sweating!” Silva said, while her 5-year-old son played underfoot. “Last year we made a snowman on our terrace,” she said, fanning herself. “This year my son wants an ice cream!”

Record-breaking warm weather has blanketed the region, lending an almost tropical feel to what should be a season of scarves and hot cocoa. Roses have bloomed in planters near the Rockefeller Plaza Christmas tree, and at least one beach volleyball game — played shirtless — heated up on Christmas Eve in Central Park.

But as the mercury hit 72 the day before Christmas, and the temperature was 60 degrees at noon on the holiday itself, there was a sense that the heat had given an unwelcome dimension to the traditional holiday spirit.

All season long, Mohammad Mannan, 62, who helps run a newsstand in Times Square, has been hawking fuzzy Santa hats for $3. (An extra $2 buys a version fit for when Santa goes club-hopping, with spangles and plastic stars.) Last year, the hats sold briskly, 20 a day, said Mannan, who is originally from Bangladesh. The day before Christmas, he had sold only two.

“This is the weather in Bangladesh!” he said.

The warmth upended some holiday traditions. Silva, 30, noted the thin layer of water atop the ice at Bryant Park, and did not let her son skate.

“It’s dangerous,” she said.

Next to the rink, at a pop-up restaurant called Celsius, ceiling fans whirred on high speed. In the pre-Christmas mugginess, even watching a yule log burn on a screen seemed too stifling.

For some the weather was a balm of sorts. Nate Henninger, an art photographer, trudged down Sixth Avenue near Bleecker Street, carrying a last-minute Charlie Brown-size pine tree on his shoulder on Christmas Eve, sweat beading on his lip. His plans for a romantic holiday getaway had suddenly changed, but the weather helped mitigate any disappointment.

“You have your built-in expectations about what Christmas is going to be like,” he said. But with the warm weather, he said, “you can just relax and just enjoy.”

In Greenwich Village, Bobby Gilliland, 70, a visitor from Northern Ireland on his last day of vacation, was wearing his new Christmas sweater (“Santa brought it last night,” he said) featuring a penguin, also wearing a Christmas sweater. He almost did not wear it, said his son, Rob, 39, an airline pilot.

“He said, ‘I’ll save it for the aircraft because it will be cooler,’ his son said. “But I convinced him.”

Every night before Christmas for the past 35 years, Woodlands Community Temple, a Reform congregation in suburban Greenburgh, New York, sends a group of young congregants, their parents and other volunteers on a mission to New York City, where they spend the early hours of Christmas morning passing out coats, blankets and meals to the homeless.

This year, some of those things seemed an ill fit, so just before the excursion, Dayle Fligel, the synagogue’s president, stocked up on T-shirts, too, concerned about how the heavy-duty donations would be received.

“I can’t believe this weather,” she said before the event. “We’ve done it in the rain, we’ve done it in the snow, we’ve done it in the sleet, but we’ve never done it in 70-degree weather.”

She need not have worried. Most years, she said, the volunteers, organized by Midnight Run, a charitable organization out of Dobbs Ferry, New York, must seek out willing recipients; on colder nights, the street homeless can be difficult to find. This year the turnout was in the hundreds, she said after the run had concluded, with people waiting for donations outdoors in the winter warmth.

“People were getting the coats and getting the blankets,” she said, “because they know the weather is coming.”

New Yorkers were also out strolling, she said, and some seemed moved by what they saw.

Her personal Christmas tradition, was unchanged, Fligel said.

“Chinese food, a movie and family,” would carry on, whatever the weather.

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