At precisely 3:18 p.m. on Saturday, the train whistle blew and the big black and red CT Rail train pulled into the new train station. As it slowly came to a stop, a sea of anxious children awaited the special passenger inside. Never before had such a famous passenger arrived to greet the city’s children. Then a large bearded man in a red suit quickly came to the window overlooking Colony Street and began to wave. It was Santa Claus.
The multitude of children below clapped and cheered as Santa slowly made his way down from the elevator waving as children ran up and hugged him. Moms’ and Dads’ iphones were in use everywhere.
Santa walked over to his special chair and posed for more pictures along with his elf dressed in green. The DJ played holiday music and Santa made sure everyone got a picture.
Then as darkness fell, Santa ambled over to the big red switch and with the crowd giving a loud countdown: “5-4-3-2-1” he threw the switch lighting the trees and holiday decorations throughout the pocket-park.
He then headed back to the station and with a wave of his hand and a hearty “ho, ho, ho” climbed aboard the train for his next stop.
That evening, Colony Street (closed to traffic), came alive with games for the children, a brightly lit Santa Sleigh, food trucks and picnic tables for dining, and Rudolf and Frosty greeting children. Indoors at 24 Colony St. were twenty-nine crafters, hot cider, hot chocolate, coffee and cookies.
Steve Cardillo, registration coordinator, distributed the Yulefest brochures and passports, which had to be stamped at various stations, for the prize drawings. The First Congregational Church hosted sing-alongs, caroling, and a bake sale as families streamed through their hall. Peter Burch, a volunteer and parishioner remarked: “It was an exciting time for me to be on Colony Street during the Meriden Yulefest. I was among hundreds and hundreds of adults and children swirling about, especially when Santa arrived by train. It looked like there was something for everyone, from food trucks to live music to dancing in the street to carol singing and a bake sale at First Congregational Church to artwork at Gallery 53 to face painting and vendor booths. It just seemed like everybody was having a fun time”.
Gallery 53, showing off their holiday display and sale, had a record number of visitors and sales. Janet Gawlak, a volunteer manager for the Gallery, said, “We have never seen so many people at the Gallery at one time before. We had many sales and the buyers enjoyed the free gift wrapping. Many also said it was their first time at Gallery 53”.
Also along Colony Street were children’s holiday-themed games created by Nick Macri. of Macri Signs, who also provided a wide assortment of prizes for the children to select. All left happy with their choices.
Further down the street, United Rhythms Dance Studio dancers performed a number of high energy dances in Santa outfits in front of a large crowd. Fernando Alers, owner of United Rhythms, told us: “Thank you very much for having us. We all had a great time.”
Valentin Karate also performed a martial arts demonstration to the delight of all and the Silver City Ballroom hosted food and music with live entertainment throughout the Yulefest in their beautifully decorated space.
Meriden Yulefest was the brainchild of Carrie Teele assisted by David Grodzicki (co-organizer) who were also the organizers of the summer Twilight Music Series. They both deserve a tremendous amount of credit for all their efforts and for spearheading a great committee of volunteers who came together to make this event possible. They teamed up with David Cooley (Making Meriden Business Center) and Lisa Biesak (CT Main Street Center) who provided organizational support. The community came together and forty-one sponsors generously donated cash, goods and services for the Yulefest to make it such a great event. This was also accomplished with no cost to the city.
As a member of the Yulefest committee, I could not be prouder of what we have achieved. We set out to put on a new, fun-filled holiday event for children and families and bring lots of people to downtown Meriden. Mission accomplished. Now we look forward to Yulefest 2019.
Michael S. Rohde is a former mayor and city councilor of Meriden.