By Barbara Tetreault
BERLIN — Two big holiday events are combining this year to create a Berlin Christmas Celebration extravaganza with a parade, fireworks, hayrides, food and a visit from Santa Claus.
The Berlin Main Street Program, the Kiwanis International, Knights of Columbus and the Androscoggin Valley Chamber of Commerce are combining the annual Parade of Lights and the Family Christmas Festival to produce the Berlin Christmas Celebration on Saturday, Dec. 5.
“Collaboration is always better,” said chamber Executive Coordinator Paula Kinney.
Hoping to re-invigorate the parade, the Main Street Program accepted an offer to join its event with the Berlin/Gorham Knights of Columbus’ Family Christmas Festival. Instead of a parade through the downtown on the Friday after Thanksgiving, the Parade of Lights is moving to the first Saturday in December and to a route that starts at the 12th Street Bridge and ends at the Heritage Park, where the festival is held.
The theme of this year’s parade is “Heritage Christmas,” in part to commemorate the 100th anniversary of the Bridge Street Bridge. The bridge, now limited to foot traffic, is on the parade route and will be decorated. Main Street Program head Sylvia Poulin said organizers hope property owners along the route will join in the fun by decorating their homes and businesses as well.
The parade will kick off at 4 p.m. and title sponsor Service Credit Union will be handing out lip balm to parade-goers along the route. Poulin said she hopes for increased participation in the parade this year because of the new date. She said in the past many people said Thanksgiving weekend was busy for them. She encourages people and businesses to register a float, walking group, antique vehicle, horse and wagon or ATV. The only requirement is that the float or vehicle must contain lights in keeping with the overall theme of the Parade of Lights.
“We hoping this will be the best parade ever,” said Poulin.
Special guests in this year’s parade will be Miss America’s Outstanding Teen Allie Nault, Miss Berlin-Gorham Brittany Sulham, and Miss Berlin-Gorham Outstanding Teen Julie Downs.
Riding in the parade on the Kiwanis float will be Santa and Mrs. Claus, who will be delivered to the Heritage Park for the Family Christmas Festival, which gets underway at 4 p.m. Santa will set up in the Boss’ Shack at the park and expects hundreds of visits from little boys and girls (and maybe some big ones as well). Parents and grandparents are encouraged to take pictures of their kids with the Jolly Old Elf and Mrs. Claus.
Knights of Columbus spokesman Don Huot said last year was the first for the festival and it drew a good crowd. Admission is free and the park will be decorated to look like a magical Christmas wonderland. The Filer’s Shack will be full to the brim with animated Christmas decorations while the Blacksmith Shop will host an arrangement of animated characters, including an amazing Holiday Village complete with railroad.
Free hayrides and hot chocolate will be provided to children and there will be free marshmallow roasting. There will also be an array of children’s games with prizes.
A wide variety of food, including chicken fingers, hamburgers, hot dogs, sausage, French fries, chili dogs and homemade vegetable soup, will be available in the Cookhouse. If you want to get a head start on your holiday dessert cooking, check out the bake sale in the Bunkhouse, where volunteers will be selling homemade desserts. Huot said there will be also be a number of raffles and prize giveaways.
Remembering that Christmas is a time to reach out to those less fortunate, the Knights are also collecting non-perishable foods for the Mother Marie Rivier Food Pantry. People are asked to bring an item to the park.
Topping off the entire Berlin Christmas Celebration will be the annual fireworks display at 8 p.m. This year, the fireworks will be set off from Horne Field, allowing excellent views from the park. Sponsoring the fireworks this year are the Main Street Program, the city of Berlin and Service Credit Union.
Service Union Credit Union is sponsoring all three events this year. As the largest credit union in New Hampshire, Service Credit Union said it prides itself on giving back to the communities where its members live and work, especially during this festive season.