MERIDEN — Hundreds of hardy residents braved the frigid rain to attend Hubbard Park’s Christmas display lighting ceremony Tuesday night. The annual event marked the official start of the 25th annual Festival of Silver Lights, the holiday lights exhibition that the park will have up from Nov. 26 to Jan. 7.
The display will be lit 24 hours a day while the festival is in progress. “I give people all the credit in the world” for coming out and enduring inclement conditions in order to participate in the celebration, said Jane Earnest, facilities coordinator of the parks and recreation department, which organized the event.
A chorale group from the YMCA’s Meriden Youth Theater kicked off the proceedings shortly after 5:30 p.m. with a performance of classic Christmas carols, such as “Silent Night” and “White Christmas,” along with a selection from “Jingle Jury,” a holiday show the group will perform on Dec. 21.
Costumed characters representing Frosty the Snowman and Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer emerged from behind the stage near the end of the group’s set and were immediately swarmed by small children wanting to share dances and hugs with them. The carolers sang both characters’ theme songs as they made their entrance and began to interact with the kids.
Earnest said the annual event is exciting for children because they can return to school and tell their classmates that they were among the first people this year to witness the park’s incredible holiday display.
After the carolers concluded, Mayor Michael S. Rohde led the crowd in a countdown that culminated with his flipping the switch that powered up the exhibit, surrounding the audience in a wash of illumination from thousands of holiday bulbs spread throughout the park.
Mark Zabora, director of the parks and recreation department, said the lighting spectacular features more than 200,000 white lights and more than 300 lighted characters.
The holiday extravaganza contains several new additions this year, Zabora said, including a German shepherd and a bobcat, as well as an 18-foot display of the earth and its continents that bears the message “Peace on Earth.” The globe exhibit replaced a similar 14-foot model that was long part of the display.
City Councilor Dan Brunet said he hopes all residents, including city leader,s embrace the message. He said the display lighting ceremony symbolizes a civic unity that is especially significant in the wake of the contentious elections earlier this month.
“The bigger picture is the city of Meriden,” he said.