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A new holiday tradition begins at Mattituck beach

It may be below freezing out, but it’s worth bundling up to see a new holiday tradition that has arrived along the Peconic Bay in Mattituck.

A Christmas tree placed in the sand at Veterans Beach has become both a community art project and a way to spread cheer.

The project is sponsored by HUGS Inc., a Westhampton beach-based nonprofit that provides mental health resources and drug prevention programs in schools and communities.

The tradition began with a single tree last year on Rogers Beach in Westhampton.

“Last November, I started to realize just how profoundly sad people were feeling about Covid and loss, whether it was loss of life or loss of opportunity,” explained Kym Laube, executive director at HUGS.

“I just had this silly idea to put a Christmas tree on the beach and before I knew it, photos were popping up on social media and people were sending me messages thanking me because they needed a ray of light.”

Beachgoers and families are encouraged to participate in the project by visiting and creating their own shell ornament to hang on the tree.

Near the tree, look for a silver bucket filled with clam shells and markers to decorate with. You can also comb the beach for your own shells, pine cones or sticks to use.

According to the instructions, you can snap a photo and post it with the hashtag #HugsHolidayTree and tag @HugsInc on Instagram or Facebook to be entered in a Hampton Coffee Company giveaway.

Several ornaments already adorning the tree contain messages like: “Peace on Earth,”  “Have a great day!” and “Ho Ho Ho, Let it all go.”

This year’s tree in Mattituck joins a growing tradition. Last year, the organization placed trees for public decoration at Rogers Beach in Westhampton and Webby’s Beach in Center Moriches.

According to Ms. Laube, the organization shares a special tie to the North Fork as HUGS was founded over 40 years ago in Mattituck. Since this year’s tree went up, she said they’ve received requests for other locations and expects the project to grow in coming years.

Ms. Laube said she never expected the idea to take off. “It’s one of the most simple projects our agency has done and yet it had this unique impact on people. We need more of those moments to be reflective of the good.”

The tree will be on display until Dec. 30.