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Holiday Wishes From the Streets of New York

25 strangers share their hopes for the season.

Last year, to celebrate the winter holidays, my wife Claire Hamilton and I asked 25 strangers to tell us their holiday wish. We met everyone spontaneously during an afternoon walk through New York City. Each person answered the question as seriously or playfully as they wanted, then posed to be photographed.

That slideshow ("Wishes") was such fun it prompted others for Valentine’s Day ("Nicknames"), Mother’s Day ("Moms"), Father’s Day ("Dads"), Halloween ("Jokes"), and Thanksgiving ("Recipes"). Couples discussed their affectionate nicknames. Moms and dads described memorable moments of parenthood. Neighbors shared Halloween jokes and family recipes.

After a long presidential race, a deadly tropical storm, and a heartbreaking school attack, it seemed important to revisit the topic of wishes this year. The following piece comes from a four-hour walk through Brooklyn and Manhattan. I asked everybody the same question: "What’s your holiday wish?"

Monique, Sinayah & Derrick

Sinayah: “I hope grandma gets better. She’s on oxygen.”

Derrick: “I’d also like to pass state exams.”

 

Peter & Aika

Peter: “A new transmission – my car hasn’t run right since Sandy.”

Aika: “Nintendo DS.”

 

Amber

“Belly laughs for all.”

 

Vicki, Ivan, Julia & Christina

Christina: "As a med student I see so much sickness."

Ivan: “We hope nobody mourns on Christmas Eve."

 

Margaret & Owen

Margaret: “I have 11 brothers and sisters, and 26 nieces and nephews. Let’s hope
everyone stays alive and keeps talking with each other."

Owen: "That’s my wish too."

 

Sean

"This year I lost my job through no fault of my own.
I’m trying to make the kids happy on a shoestring.
I hope they’ll understand it’s not about stuff."

 

Arielle

"More connection between beings."

 

Damien & Arnold

Arnold: "My wish is for the economy to improve. People need work."

Damien: "To visit family in Atlanta; it’s been years."

 

Kyle & Christina

Christina: "More vacation days. More time together."

Kyle: "Nothing material."

 


Marshall & Liz

Marshall: "We hope the president takes immediate action on gun control."

Liz: "After these Connecticut shootings I can think of nothing else."

 

Max & Elijah

Elijah: "A French Bulldog."

Max: "A French Bulldog."

 


Ollie

"Big turkey dinners." (conveyed by his owner)

 

Carmelo

"I probably shouldn’t describe my holiday wish."


 

Acacia

"Snow – I’m from Syracuse."

 

Joan

"I wish we could stop political rhetoric, and come together around important issues."

 


Matthew

"That Saint Vincent’s Hospital reopens. It ran out of money then closed.
Meeting a girl would also be nice."

 

John

"I’ll quote Bob Dylan: Times are a-changin’. Rent costs $5100 per month now.
I hope small businesses survive."


 

Alva & Brunilda


Alva: "I want my 12-year-old daughter to recover from scoliosis."

Brunilda: "My son-in-law is comatose. I hope he snaps out of it."

 

Adrian & Carlos


Carlos: "We’ve known one another 16 years, and today we bought this guitar.
It’s our holiday wish. We each put in 50 bucks."

Adrian: "We’re here just a few months. But we can’t live without music."

 

Verónica, Federica & Eric

Federica: "I want everybody to be happy." (translated by her mom and dad)

About the Author

  • Jon Cotner is an artist and poet who revives the ancient, endangered practices of walking and talking. He's coauthor of Ten Walks/Two Talks, and his work has been profiled in The New York Times, The New Yorker, and The Wall Street Journal. He lives in Brooklyn.