Whether you prefer to call them Christmas, Yule, Hanukkah, the Solstice, Kwanzaa, Saturnalia, Festivus, deer season or something else, there’s no denying once Thanksgiving is past that the winter holidays are upon us. No matter how much of a Scrooge or a Grinch you are, at this point resistance is useless, so you might as well embrace your community’s attempts to spread light and cheer. They’ll help you get through Seasonal Affective Disorder and the stress of too-much-to-do with a nostalgic smile on your face.
There once was a time when folks in small towns like New Paltz customarily congregated and shopped for the holidays in their cheerily decorated village centers, calling greetings to neighbors as they pass, instead of enduring the glare, blare and crush of megamalls. Happily, those traditions are coming back in recent years, and our town has put its considerable creativity to work to center the season around organized public events that put the human-scale warmth and sparkle back into Yuletide. Here are three of them that you shouldn’t miss this year:
Celebrate New Paltz
Also known as Light Up Main Street, this effort by the New Paltz Regional Chamber of Commerce to turn the town into an enticing holiday destination is already underway just as this issue of the New Paltz Times hits the newsstands. This Wednesday, Thanksgiving Eve, the Chamber will flip a metaphorical switch and the fairy lights will come on in shops, homes and businesses “all the way from the Thruway to Wallkill View Farm,” according to director Kathy Prizzia.
“This is the first time the Chamber has done this — it’s the inaugural event.” says marketing director Marian Goldin. “Our two sponsors, Woodland Pond and Copeland Funeral Home, put up the money to purchase strings of little white lights. Then we sent out an e-blast and asked if people wanted them donated.” Enter Jim Tinger and his energetic young charges at the New Paltz Youth Center, who volunteered to hang the lights for anyone who wanted some — residents as well as businesses. “They will be lit on November 25, everybody together.”
Prizzia went on to explain that the impetus for the campaign was the “sad shape” of the snowflakes that used to be hung on telephone poles along Main Street at Christmastime, replaced last year by banners that struck many as somewhat lacking in the festivity department. “The Chamber recognized that there’s a need for some collective holiday décor,” she said. Purchasing the lights in bulk will lend a cohesiveness to the town’s look that will make New Paltz look like an enchanted village where shopping is fun instead of stressful, the Chamber hopes.
“We’re just asking people to turn on the lights on the same date,” Prizzia says. “We’re trying to get the community to work together. The town and village budgets are really stretched right now, so local businesses are taking it on ourselves to show how we care for our community.”
Downtown New Paltz Unwrapped
Hard on the heels of the official lighting-up of Main Street and adjoining shopping destinations like North Front and Church Streets will be the official “unveiling” of each shop’s holiday displays at the long-running event called Downtown New Paltz Unwrapped. “Normally we do this on the Friday night following Thanksgiving, but that date didn’t work out this year, so we’re doing it on Sunday,” reports Julie Safran, owner of both Verde and Cocoon and a member of the committee organizing the event.
Downtown Unwrapped 2015 kicks off at the Water Street Market at 4 p.m. on November 29 with an Elf Hunt for the little ones. “Melinda [Minervini, owner of Handmade and More] bought 150 little plastic elves. We’re going to hide them all over Water Street Market, and the kids will look for them. If they find one, they get to keep the elf.” Shops at the rustic mall will be running discounts and giveaways and put out treats like hot cider and cocoa during the event.
Then, at 5 p.m., says Safran, “Santa and Mrs. Claus are still doing their tour throughout the village.” The stately promenade, which residents and visitors are invited to join, begins at Water Street Market, will travel along Main and Church Streets and end on North Front, and here too each shop will offer special enticements to step inside. Plans are in the works for some sort of live entertainment at the end of the Mr. and Mrs. Santa parade, but Safran didn’t have details as of presstime. She’s hoping that a more brilliantly lit downtown, courtesy of the Chamber’s Light Up Main Street campaign, will mean a bigger turnout than last year for this annual event, which goes on regardless of the weather conditions. Neither snow nor rain not sleet nor gloom of night has stopped Santa yet, after all!
A holiday on Huguenot Street
The coordinated pre-holiday festivities in downtown New Paltz come to a crescendo on Friday and Saturday, December 4 and 5. In years past, the Chamber of Commerce, Historic Huguenot Street and the New Paltz Reformed Church have all organized their own events, sometimes on the same date and competing for residents’ attendance. This year, for the first time, “Historic Huguenot Street and the Reformed Church are working together. That’s really big,” says Prizzia. “It’s really strengthening what we’re doing at the Chamber: trying to work together as a community…. We want to cross-promote from within.”
From 4 p.m. on Friday to 5 p.m. on Saturday, Huguenot Street will be closed to traffic, lined with luminaries and full of various family-friendly events, including horse-drawn wagon rides on Saturday, co-sponsored by the Chamber of Commerce. The annual community tree-lighting by local dignitaries and group caroling will take place on the Deyo House lawn at 74 Huguenot Street at 7 p.m. on Friday evening, after which Santa will arrive with a little treat for all the children.
An intriguing new offering this year will be a pop-up chocolate shop hosted by the DuBois Fort Visitor Center at 81 Huguenot Street. Open from 4 to 9 p.m. on Friday, it will be run by Lagusta’s Luscious, so you can expect out-of-the-ordinary flavor combinations, each one delectable. Also getting underway at 4 p.m., and setting out from the DuBois Fort on the hour until 9 Friday night and again from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. on Saturday, will be Historic Huguenot Street’s special holiday-themed stone house tours. There’s a $15 per person charge for the tours, and they fill up, so preregistration is recommended at https://historic-huguenot-street-museum-shop.myshopify.com/collections/events/products/a-holiday-on-huguenot-street-tour-tickets.
At 5 p.m. on Friday, the Reformed Church’s Christmas Fair opens in the Wullschleger Education Building at 92 Huguenot Street. It will reopen at 9 a.m. on Saturday. At 6 p.m. on Friday, the Church’s front steps will become a magnet for chilled visitors as it presents its popular Soup on the Stoop event, accompanied by a live outdoor concert from the Reformed Church Choir. The Big Blue Big Band will performing a free holiday concert at 8:30 p.m. in the sanctuary of the church.
On Saturday, December 5, a miniature donkey petting zoo will start at 10 a.m. outside of the Wullschleger Education Building, and Twice Blessed thrift shop will be open from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m.
The Reformed Church’s Social Hall will host a Christmas Café from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. Horse-drawn wagon rides will depart from the DuBois Fort Visitor Center every 15 minutes from 1 until 4 p.m. The charge is $5 per person; children age 3 and under ride for free. Beginning at 2 p.m., Deyo Hall at 6 Broadhead Avenue will host a Kids’ Crafts workshop courtesy of Hurds Family Farm.