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The Celebration of Lights and Song has become a holiday ritual in downtown New London. This season, budget cuts put the enterprise in a bit of a predicament: Could it go on, and, if so, in what form?
New London Main Street, which organizes the event, has seen its funding from the city of New London drop. Main Street thus trimmed the money it allocated for the Celebration of Lights and Song from $2,500 to $250.
Renee Fournier, who is chair of New London Main Street's Public Relations Committee, says, "The event might not have even happened, but we said to the city, 'Well, you guys need a tree, and we have the (skating) rink. Why make this event go away? Let's do what it takes to make it happen.'"
A group of people - from New London Main Street, the city, the Garde Arts Center, ISAAC and Eastern Connecticut Ballet - helped do just that, creating a scaled-back version of the celebration.
"Everything about this event is very community-oriented," Fournier says. "It's just everyone pulling together in a difficult economic time to make sure the holidays don't pass by without getting noticed."
The culmination of the festivities on Parada Plaza is the 5 p.m. tree lighting by Mayor Daryl Justin Finizio. The lighting ceremony will include Joseph Salcedo, an ISAAC student and New London resident who just sang on the Sesame Street Float in Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade. On hand, too, will be such costumed characters as the Sugar Plum Fairy, Nutcracker and Clara's Mom from Eastern Connecticut Ballet; Simply Enchanted's Rapunzel, marking Missoula Children's Theater summer production at the Garde; and, of course, Santa Claus.
During the lighting ceremony, there will be performances by ISAAC School Swing Choir and Salcedo. In addition to performing some music in honor of Christmas, Kwanzaa and Hanukkah, the choir will lead a round of caroling. (A menorah lighting will happen in honor of Hanukkah at 5 p.m. Sunday on Parade Plaza, with Rabbi Avrohom Sternberg leading the way.)
Before Saturday's tree lighting, visitors can skate on The Rink at Parade Plaza and can watch a figure skating showcase at 4:15 p.m. and an ice hockey exhibition at 4:35 p.m. Santa arrives at the skating rink at 4 p.m.
A human sculpture called The Snow Angel will stand inside the window of Pinc! Boutique on State Street from 3:30 to 5 p.m. She will come to life if someone makes a donation, which will go to New London Community Meal Center. She will hand the donor a fortune scroll.
The Sugar Plum Fairy from Eastern Connecticut Ballet - which will stage its "Nutcracker" Dec. 15 and 16 at the Garde - will meet the public from 4 to 4:45 p.m. at Thames River Greenery and Beanery.
The hope is that visitors who come to New London for the Celebration of Lights and Song will return later on.
Fournier says, "We really do want to build foot traffic downtown, not just on Dec. 8, but we want to build foot traffic at what are the darkest and lowest days of the year for the merchants and the restaurants downtown."
Celebration of Lights and Song, 4 p.m. Saturday, downtown New London; tree lighting at 5 p.m. at Parade Plaza on State Street; rink admission is $5 for adults, $4 for ages 12 and under; everyone who pays to skate during the Celebration of Lights and Song will leave with a free voucher to return; newlondonmainstreet.org.