By MADDY VITALE
In a year when nothing much seems to be normal and virtual has become a reality, a tradition in Ocean City that may appear a bit strange to people who aren’t aware of the custom had happy shoppers strolling in downtown Asbury Avenue on Saturday toting bags filled with gifts — in their pajamas.
Yes, “Earlier Than The Bird,” the resort’s shopping spree in your jammies, turned out residents and visitors alike, who share in the zany tradition in a popular event sponsored by the Downtown Merchants Association.
Merchants offered a host of discounts, free doughnuts and coffee, a turkey mascot, and temperatures in the 60s delighted families.
Christmas decorations created the holiday wonderland, and horse and carriage rides in the afternoon topped off the experience.
Jill Kozakowski, of Ocean City, and her husband, Christian Chin, brought their children, Sebastian, 3, and Sydney, 10, to share in their yearly tradition.
“We come every year. We already got so many gifts today for family,” Kozakowski noted. “We were so happy it wasn’t canceled this year since so much else was.”
Amid COVID-19, “Earlier Than The Bird, was in fact one of the few events that was still offered when others around the holidays were canceled due to social distancing requirements.
“Everyone is wearing their masks and staying six feet apart,” Kozakowski said.
Sydney was all smiles about her purchases. “I got a bracelet for my dad and a present for my dog,” she said.
Chin, like his wife, emphasized that the event is such a good time each year.
“It gets everyone out and helps get people to shop locally,” he added.
Some people spent time listening to festive music playing in Mark Soifer Park across from City Hall, taking photos by Santa’s Mailbox just across from the park, and snapping pictures of families sitting in a decorative lifeguard boat.
Daria Rose and Jodi LaRosa, both of Ocean City, and co-workers at the Deauville Inn in Strathmere, dressed as elves to really get into the holiday spirit.
They each bought some clothing from one of their favorite shops on Asbury Avenue.
“It is just beautiful and great for the businesses,” Rose said.
A group of friends from Cape May County said they never miss the shopping event. Like Rose and LaRosa, they dressed as elves and bought some holiday gifts.
“Oh, my gosh. This has been great today,” said Patty Behrens, one of the group of friends. “I am thankful all of my friends can be together today, and I am ready to get my holiday shopping going.”
People perused the shops, sat outside restaurants, sipped coffee and did some window shopping.
Friends Fionna Janson, of Somers Point, and Bobbi Sue Spinelli, of Delanco, made it a point to do a lot of shopping.
“We got a lot of Christmas gifts today. We got candles, ornaments and clothing,” Janson said.
Spinelli added that they also purchased something for themselves. They were sparkly face coverings.
“We also got decorations,” she said.
While many of the people who attended the festive event do so year after year, Ericka Ford, of Ocean City, her husband, Rich, and their son, Richie, moved to Ocean City this past year.
“This is our first time,” Ericka Ford said. “We wanted to get out as a family and walk around and see what we can find.”