There’s the pro hockey extravaganza called the Winter Classic being played Friday afternoon in Gillette Stadium. And then there’s the winter classic that plays all season long at the Frog Pond on Boston Common.
It’s ice skating, the old-fashioned way, on a small oval rink where the skilled and the stumblers glide and grope their way in looping, elliptical circles — over and over, often hand in hand, and nearly always with broad, beaming smiles on their faces.
After weeks of warm weather, it even felt seasonal Thursday. The temperature hadn’t risen far past freezing, and the Common held just enough snow to make the picture fit the calendar.
So, on a machine-made sheet of hardened water, there they were, hundreds of them — Bostonians, visitors from the suburbs, and tourists from out of state who strapped on their skates and basked in the outdoor elements.
“To me, this is the epitome of Boston, with the State House and Beacon Hill in the background,” said Nancy Bilezikian of Watertown.
She was preparing to step on the ice in late morning with her husband, Jeffrey, and their two young girls. Soon they were sashaying around the rink, reliving a New Year’s Eve ritual that the couple has repeated 14 times — since the days when they were dating.
In 2003, they even made sure they fit in a skate before meeting their wedding planner. Now, it’s a family tradition.
For Lilianna Susskind, it’s also work — she’s one of the attendants paid by the city to make sure the skaters all move in the same direction and follow a flurry of other rules. Such as not sitting on the boards that circle the rink. As well as not eating, not drinking, and not carrying anybody while skating.
Susskind also has skated professionally. But the 23-year-old student at the Massachusetts College of Art and Design said this job is a treat.
“I love skating,” Susskind said, leaning against the boards as the human merry-go-round passed continuously before her. “We’re outside, we’re active, and some of these people are trying something they’ve never done before.”
The neophytes couldn’t be missed — ankles buckling, arms grasping for the boards to break a fall. And in newcomer John Vieira’s case, his 6-foot-plus height helped him stand out. But that wasn’t the main reason. The young Barnstable man somehow, some way, managed to stay upright.
Vieira even summoned the sense of history to ask a stranger to photograph his debut on ice. Then, with each stride looking to be his last, off he went for another lap, leaning against his companion more like a battle casualty than the second coming of Nancy Kerrigan.
For many skaters, the day was a chance to share a simple joy with loved ones and friends. David Santulli of the South End circled the rink with his 15-year-old son, Troy.
“I can’t think of a better thing to do on New Year’s Eve day,” said the elder Santulli, who walked to the Common with his son. “It’s a beautiful day, it’s a good day to spend with family, and I want to end the year right.”
Even if the better skater is Troy. “I can’t keep up with him, but I try,” Santulli said.
For Susskind, the ice-rink attendant, watching such bonding is part of what makes her job rewarding.
“Being a city person, I usually don’t see families doing things together. When I see them, they’re usually just going somewhere,” she said.
At the Frog Pond, that somewhere is around and around in circles.
Near one curve, Steve Kennedy watched the skaters waltz and wobble as he stood on terra firma. He’s from Oldsmar, Fla., near Tampa, and outdoor skating is something more familiar on television than in the middle of the city.
His girlfriend, Lynn native Jayne Dunn, pulled up and took a breather. Near her home in Florida, she said, skaters can take to the ice inside the Clearwater Mall. But the chance to skate outdoors is a much different experience.
Kennedy seemed intrigued, but not enough to rent a pair of skates.
“That’s OK,” he said while shaking his head. “I like my ankles and my knees.”
Brian MacQuarrie can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.