MERIDEN — South Meriden has always thought of itself as a little different from the rest of the city. So much so that jokingly, but not really, some of the residents refer to that part of town as the Republic of South Meriden.
The republic got together to celebrate twenty years of community fun Saturday afternoon at its annual Christmas in the Village celebration.
For two decades the neighborhood has shut down the intersection of Main and Camp streets near Hanover School and thrown a holiday party. All of the food and entertainment is free and this year, like those in the past, organizers expect that several thousand people will kick off their holiday season strolling leisurely around the village.
Ralph Riello, one of the original organizers, was back in town helping out. He remembered the early days of the event. Twenty years ago, many of the organizers had just worked on the revitalization of South Meriden. When the project was complete, they were looking for something else to do together and the ideas of a neighborhood holiday party came up.
“It’s been a long ride,” Riello said. “The people that live here in South Meriden really come together.”
“It’s a way for the community to give back,” said Tom Raffile, a current member of the celebration planning committee and a volunteer from Our Lady of Queen of Angels Church in Meriden.
There is something about South Meriden that inspires allegiance. The ties, when they are present, run deep.
Jane Namnoum and Edie Marcantonio greeted people touring the Christmas display at South Meriden Trinity United Methodist Church. Both women grew up within a block of the church. Namnoum’s great-great grandfather donated a stained glass window to the church.
“People don’t leave (South Meriden),” Namnoum said.
Namnoum remembers a community that had everything you could want – a park, a couple of churches, a liquor store for those less liturgically minded. There was a grocery store down the street at one point.
“I think people’s hearts are here,” Namnoum said.
“It’s a small village,” Marcantonio said. “People feel comfortable down here.”
Marcantonio now lives on the edge of South Meriden, but just barely.
“They can’t get rid of me,” she said.
Ariana Shephard, coach of the Under-14 squad of the Meriden Raiders cheerleading squad, grew up in South Meriden and wanted to make sure people from her old neck of the woods knew about the team. Her grandparents still live on Rosemary Terrace.
“It’s like a little town,” she said. “It has a small neighborhood feel.”
What creates a sense of place? Is it geography? Is it the people? On Saturday afternoon in South Meriden, watching little kids eat hot dogs, old people slowly walking arm in arm drinking hot cocoa, and people greeting one another as if they’ve known each all their lives, its clear the answer is all of the above.