Like many of you, I have a holiday tradition of setting up a Christmas village. It’s an idyllic place that, in some ways, bears a resemblance to Forest Park. This year I decided to make it a more realistic representation of our village.

For example, I usually blanket my village with fresh-fallen snow. This year, I cleared the sidewalks with tiny bobcats and plowed the streets curb-to-curb. I even threw down a little rock salt. Then I added a thin layer of fast food containers, beer bottles and plastic grocery bags atop the snow, since that’s what I wake up to every morning.

I then added tiny anti-video gambling signs and “I Love Forest Park” signs to the snow-covered lawns. Just for fun, I put one of each on somebody’s property. My village normally has separate “country” and “city” sections. The lighthouse, windmill, farm etc. are on one side. The shops, post office and firehouse are on the other. But why not imitate Forest Park’s zoning laws and put the humble farmhouse across the street from the glitzy ice-skating rink?

This rink is so upscale, the skaters can actually skate. I mean, the stately couple used to skate. Apparently they’re too old to move anymore. Now, they stand in the middle of the rink, while the young mother whizzes around them pushing her kid in a stroller that’s fitted with skates. There’s also a low-tech rink on the other side of town — a mirror actually — where the three skaters are stuck.

This rink had been lit by one of my gas streetlights but I replaced all of them with LED lights to make the village brighter and more energy efficient. They shine on the village’s six businesses. Two of these are Irish pubs: a small one that could pass for Duffy’s and a two-story ale house the size of Doc Ryan’s. There are two music stores, just like Kagan & Gaines and American Music World. There’s also an independent bookstore as a stand-in for Centuries & Sleuths. 

There’s a shop with a full-time butcher, like Ed’s Way. There’s a Christmas tree lot, like the one next to Portillo’s. I don’t see how they can stay in business, now that they’ve lost their two longtime customers. A young couple used to haul away a fresh tree every year but they suffered a tragic fall. Losing them reduced the village’s population from 20 to 18.

Of these inhabitants, two are altar boys, seven are skaters (if you count the baby). Two are dads. One dad builds a snowman with his two boys. The other dad is less active. He sits on a bench, next to his sedentary son, who is reading a book. There are no less than four carolers. I wish there were more carolers in Forest Park. I also wish that all of my townspeople weren’t white.

There’s apparently no crime in my village, because there’s no police station. There’s also no traffic. I think it’s because I added the Blue Line and Green Line trains this year. The trains even make tape-recorded announcements, like “Doors open on your left at Harlem,” “Doors closing,” and the ever-popular “This is Forest Park, as far as this train goes. All passengers must leave the train.”

There’s only one house in my village. It’s looking kind of sad, so this year I put a dumpster in front of it. There’s a cathedral that dominates downtown, like St. John’s and a small chapel that could be a stand-in for St. Paul’s. 

There’s also a baby lying in a manger. What’s he doing there? 

John Rice is a columnist/private detective, who has seen his business and family thrive in Forest Park. He thoroughly enjoys life in the village and still gets a thrill smelling Red Hots, watching softball and strolling through cemeteries.

John Rice

John Rice is a columnist/novelist who has seen his family thrive in Forest Park. He has published two books set in the village: The Ghost of Cleopatra and The Doll with the Sad Face.