BERLIN — Festooned with Christmas lights and a towering Evergreen large enough for children to hide among its branches, Main Street became a winter wonderland for a few hours Sunday for the town’s Christmas tree lighting ceremony.
Hopping off a twinkling fire engine, Santa Claus himself set the tree’s lights aglow and welcomed people to Kensington Village at the intersection of Main Street and Farmington Avenue.
“I feel like I’m in a Hallmark movie,” said Elaine Pavasaris, owner of Home Sweet Home Realty on Main Street. “ … it’s so nice to bring the community together.”
Jim Simons, the town’s fire administrator, said this year’s ceremony was the most successful the town has seen in the half dozen years the four volunteer fire companies have been coordinating it. He estimated between 250 and 300 people filled Main Street, which was closed between Farmington Avenue and New Britain Road for the Nov. 30 event.
The fire companies opted to move the event to Main Street after it was held at Veterans Memorial Park for around three decades, to support the town’s efforts to revitalize the downtown area.
“The biggest thing is the involvement between the businesses and the residents. We’ve had more people than we’ve ever thought of having before,” Simons said.
The festival featured ornament decorating for kids, plus dancing and karate demonstrations. Carolers sang throughout the evening, including McGee Middle School’s Caroling Band, the Jubilation Ringers from Kensington Congregational Church, The RingTones — a local “doo wop” band — The Carol Crashers and Berlin High School’s Madrigals Singers.
After getting his ride to Main Street from Squad 4 out of the Kensington Volunteer Fire Department, which was decked out with strands of Christmas lights of its own, Santa stuck around with Mrs. Claus to take pictures with families and hand out candy canes with help from firefighters.
The money raised from the event, plus the many other car shows and fundraisers the fire companies hold throughout the year, is donated to the Berlin Veterans Commission to be distributed to local veterans. The fire company collected donations through a “Fill the Boot” fundraiser, while the Berlin Police Department ran a “Stuff a Cruiser” toy and food drive for the Berlin Food Bank.
Mayor Mark Kaczynski said he was excited about the location change, which reminded him of the Yankee Peddler Days that used to fill businesses along Main Street during the summer until the event ceased around the 1980’s. Being able to host community-building events, he said, is one of the benefits of having a downtown district like what the town is fostering in Kensington Village.
“It’s kind of the Main Street downtown area we’re looking for,” he said.
Berlin resident Alexandra Dutra said the festival made her proud to have recently moved to Berlin, introducing her to new neighbors and building camaraderie between locals. She was also impressed by how the district was transformed for the holidays.
“I find it to be so quaint, it just feels nostalgic,” she said. “It’s not tall buildings and skyscrapers; it has character.”