Driving with the coach bus through Downtown Manhattan, most of the kids from Bethpage High School's Italian Club Trip were agog with lights, the hustle & bustle of the holiday feeling as trucks unloaded crates of food and wire-wrapped Christmas trees stacked thin and straight against chainlink fences, waiting for someone to take them home to decorate. Kids are usually totally caught in between the dazzling lights and the excitement of the season. Today was no different.

A walk around a still-quiet Little Italy gave our students a taste of cappuccino at Ferrara's and a pashmina or two on sale from the street vendors. Arriving at Carmine's after a brief visit downtown and the usual holiday traffic in Midtown and up the West Side, students began to feel the twinges of hunger as the Italian perfumes of garlic, tomatoes and warm bread swept outside with the opening of the front door. Everyone was seated, glasses were tinkling being filled with water, pitchers of soda, trays of thickly-sliced bruschetta and the pasta platters and then the chicken parmigiana and chicken francese made their way to the table. Smiling waiters, eager kids, a festive atmosphere, a lit Christmas tree, gentle music and simple, good home-style Italian food all served to make the day memorable.

On to the Metropolitan Museum - the "presepio" and the Christmas tree there, the Medieval Gregorian chants and the masterpieces from the Italian Renaissance and Baroque periods enlightened students in a festive way. Then on to Midtown for the Rockefeller Center Christmas tree, St. Patrick's Cathedral and shopping in a variety of directions. Some groups did Fifth Avenue, others Times Square and still others the small shops at Bryant Park. By the time the students piled into the bus on the return trip home to Long Island, every kid's range of friendship had swelled as much as their smiles, as well it should not just during the holiday season, but throughout the years. Definitions like friendship, love, giving and receiving can and must take on a new perspective as we grow and learn more about life and the differences we can make for the better .

And in the middle of a "no-school" day full of new experiences and adventures of friendship, education, travel, food, culture and just plain fun, there was an added bonus. That bonus was the awareness that the delicious leftover food unable to be finished by one hundred people will grace the table of those who have none. That gift of awareness will undoubtedly over time, prove to be the most worthwhile gift of all!

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