The streets of West Hartford were alive with holiday spirit Thursday night as the annual holiday stroll was held in the Center and Blue Back Square. Young and old came out in the clear, crisp night to enjoy the numerous performances and activities. There were even some canine friends trotting around expressing their cheer with an exuberant wave of their tails.
The holiday stroll has become a beloved and much anticipated December event for town residents. According to Barbara Lerner, project marketing manager at and the event's planner, this year’s stroll was, “the biggest one that I’m aware of.”
Expansive it was, with activities going on from 5:30 to 8:30 p.m., throughout the Center and Blue Back Square.
A stage was set up for a host of musicians, choral groups, and dancers under the pergola next to . Included in the evening’s performances were the choir, the B S#arp A Cappella choir, the choir, the Bell City Carollers, and Pure Imagination Dance Theater. Actors from performed excerpts from their new production of , and in , the Conard Jazz Combo gave shoppers a swinging good time as they browsed the kitchen and home products. A Klezmer band performed in the lobby of 65 Memorial Road.
In an open space next to the , a Gingerbread House Contest and Auction benefitting Hartford Habitats Women Build program was set up. The edible exhibit, featuring abodes of every shape and size assembled by bakers from professional to amateur, will be on display until December 8 when the houses will be auctioned for the charity.
In the Center, delighted crowds stood in front of the watching dancers from the perform scenes from their annual production of . The Sugar Plum Fairy even took time from her busy schedule to take some photos with eager on-lookers.
Local restaurants offered samplings of some tasty treats and store owners welcomed shoppers with plates of cookies.
Inside , singers from Playhouse on Park performed cabaret melodies. Many shop windows were creatively and elaborately decorated, vying for a gold medal in the window decorating contest. Two “celebrity” judges, town Councilor Shari Cantor and West Hartford Art League Executive Director Roxanne Stachelek, were assigned the weighty task of choosing best in show.
Families clamored to get a glimpse of the evening’s truly big celebrity as he took his place seated in front of the .
Although he might never make anybody’s best dressed list or People Magazine’s “Sexiest Men Alive” issue, this adipose, jolly old man with the long white beard has more groupies than all of Hollywood’s glitterati put together.
Santa Claus, accompanied by the equally jovial Mrs. Claus, sat patiently as people snapped photos while little ones, one after another, whispered their Christmas requests in his ear. Among the first in line were brother and sister Sophie and Cameron Morgan. The eight and twelve year old were obviously old hats at sitting in the big man’s lap, as they smiled broadly and showed no signs of shyness when it came to asking him for their wished upon presents: a Cupcake Build-A-Bear for her, an iPod slide-out keyboard for him.
Further down the line was the Sholte family. Two-and-a-half-year-old Sofie waited her turn quietly in her father’s arms. When asked what she was going to ask Santa for, she seemed undecided. Perhaps Santa will just have to surprise her.
After an hour had passed, Mr. and Mrs. Claus boarded one of the horse-drawn carriages (no reindeer in sight) to be taken to Blue Back Square, where they would hold court for another hour.
Rosie DeRobertis, President of the West Hartford Center Business Association, spoke about what the holiday stroll means to her as she greeted customers in the family’s fourth generation on LaSalle Road.
“The West Hartford Business Association is comprised of a lot of local businesses that are unique and can’t be found anywhere else. The stroll is one of those fun events that we do as a way of giving back to the community. It’s a great way of focusing on shopping local. Most people don’t realize that for every $100 spent on a local level, $68 of that makes it way back to the community, considerably more than from shopping at a chain store or on the internet.”
Upon completing his command performance, Santa disappeared into the night, but not before it was reported by some that he had uttered the immortal lines, “Merry Christmas to all, and to all a good night … and don’t forget to shop local!”