MERIDEN — YuleFest, an annual holiday celebration putting a spotlight on local businesses, kicks off several weeks early this year. Usually held in mid-December, the free festival will begin Saturday, Nov. 25, from 12 to 6 p.m at 24 Colony St.
There will be an indoor vendor hall, with a stretch of Colony closed from Church to Washington streets so families can safely play games, listen to holiday music, and watch demonstrations from the local YMCA youth theater troupe and Valentin Karate. The vendor hall at 24 Colony St. will also be open the following day starting at 11 a.m.
This year’s hall has booked 30 vendors from around the community to sell a variety of seasonal wares and other items, with many of the surrounding businesses also getting involved. A feature of past YuleFests, organizers will be implementing the Yulepass, a punchcard that visitors can fill out by visiting the nearby local stores. If they get the entire card filled out and return it, they can be entered into a raffle with items like a 50-inch TV, a recliner, and several gift certificates.
Santa and Mrs. Claus, one of the event’s biggest draws, will be arriving on the train between 2 and 2:30 p.m, walking up on the bridge over the tracks before coming to take photos with the attendees until the festival’s end at 6 p.m. After taking photos outside, he will be sitting on a chair in the event’s Winter Wonderland corner, which is a heavily decorated area inside the vendor hall with many different trees and holiday items to take seasonal photographs.
At dusk, at around 5 p.m., they will be holding a tree-lighting ceremony in the pocket park beside the train station to bring it to life with many lighted festive decorations. Mayor Kevin Scarpati will reportedly be in attendance and press the button for the inaugural lighting this year.
The change in the date this year to right after Thanksgiving on Small Business Saturday, organizers said, was to bring more people in before the holiday season is in full swing. Though with the schedule change one of the highlights of last year’s event, the Gingerbread House contest, had to be cancelled. They are enthusiastic about a potential rise in attendance.
“We're hoping to see a large turnout. The highlight in my opinion is Santa Claus. But we want the adults to come down for the craft fair to see all the holiday gifts that will be down there from the crafters, to see the ornaments and come down for the entertainment,” said organizer Dave Grodzicki.
“It's just great to see everybody come down. And I can tell you from a personal point of view that Santa Claus really loves it.”
For those interested in attending organizers noted the best place to park is in the parking garage accessible on Church Street, which is adjacent to the event area — with guests only having to walk around the corner to make it there.
First Congregational Church, 62 Colony St., will also be participating in the event by lending its choir to sing carols and hosting a bake sale where guests can come in to get warm and have fresh treats.
According to Carrie Teele, a chief organizer who started the event with Grodzicki five years ago, the goal of YuleFest is to bring the community together and raise awareness about local businesses in Meriden and the surrounding area — with many different organizations lending their resources through donations to make the event happen.
“The true focus and the true vision of the Meridan YuleFest is getting the community together with families to celebrate whatever holiday it is that they really celebrate,” Teele said. “I decided to put it back into Small Business Saturday because it's more fitting, I believe, because it's focusing on small businesses. So it's a good opportunity for folks to start their holiday shopping locally with small businesses.”
For Grodzicki, a secondary aim is to bring people downtown, so people will see the value of the area, diminishing any stigma about Meriden’s urban center. “I've always been trying to get people to come downtown.”
Teele noted that it was a mutually beneficial relationship between YuleFest and the surrounding businesses, bringing high amounts of traffic into the area which is not usually seen during the rest of the year. Teele recalled that Gallery 53, an art gift shop located by the fair, reported that they had their biggest sales day during YuleFest.
The organizers began preparations for YuleFest in July, and are currently spending 40 to 50 hours a week at the Colony Street location setting up the vendor hall and all the decorations. Teele said the volunteers who put in so much time are critical to the success of the celebration.
“I want people to know that this event would not not be happening if it wasn't for everybody. They put in a lot of hours, a lot of dedication, and their involvement in here and everything that they've done, I appreciate everything and their time and their dedication and their devotion, and it's nice to know that there's a group of people that we could all work together to have a continuous holiday event for the community.”
The parks department will also be hosting a Holiday Crafting Party event in the library at 105 Miller St on Nov. 21 from 5 to 7 p.m, with all crafts to be displayed in the windows of 24 Colony St. during the vendor fair.
More information about the event is available online at https://www.facebook.com/MeridenYuleFest/.