West Hartford’s annual Holiday Stroll has been reinvented for 2020 with four weeks of events for the community to enjoy safely.
By Ronni Newton
The holiday season is here, and while the COVID-19 pandemic has forced changes to many traditional activities, West Hartford’s business community and town leaders were determined to keep the spirit alive despite the cancellation of what would have been the 33rd annual Holiday Stroll.
Instead, the Town of West Hartford, the West Hartford Chamber of Commerce, and Blue Back Square have partnered for the “Stroll Your Own Way” event, which kicked off Saturday, Nov. 28 and will last through the end of December.
“With the COVID-19 pandemic impacting large gatherings, we had to rethink how traditional holiday events are celebrated in a safe manner this year,” said Chris Conway, executive director of the West Hartford Chamber of Commerce.
The traditions of live holiday music and and a festive holiday window decoration contest will remain, and are key parts of this year’s celebration. The window contest, however, has been extended to businesses all over town, not just those in the Center and Blue Back Square.
The holiday window contest, a selfie challenge, an “art stroll,” and the display of holiday lights through Elmwood are already taking place, and will continue through Dec. 31, while other events (see PDF for schedule and venues) are recurring or happen only on certain days.
New this year are drive-in holiday movies – “Elf” and “The Santa Clause” – shown on the roof of the Memorial Garage.
“We had to get creative this year and introduce activities that could be done outdoors but didn’t encourage crowds. We will be showing two holiday classics by way of drive-in style from the rooftop of the Memorial Garage,” said Blue Back Square Managing Director Robyn Rifkin. Tickets are free but must be requested in advance, and are limited to 30 vehicles, Rifkin said.
And while children (and adults) can still be photographed with Santa and Mrs. Claus, this year the North Pole residents will participate via a COVID-safe virtual appearance.
The Santa photo station is located in Blue Back Square’s courtyard each Saturday and is being co-sponsored by iHeartMedia. Photos, which are free, can be sent via email or text, and the first 10 people or groups to pose for a photo each day will receive an envelope of “swag,” with prizes provided by iHeartMedia, including lift tickets to local ski mountains, passes to the Connecticut Science Center, tickets to holiday light shows, and more.
Children can also communicate directly with Santa – or even their other favorite holiday characters – by placing their letters in a “magic mailbox” outside the main entrance of Elmwood Community Center.
West Hartford’s Public Relations Specialist Renée McCue provided assurance that Santa or one of his associates will respond directly from the North Pole with a message in response to any letter placed in the mailbox by Dec. 18.
While some portions of “Stroll Your Own Way” are virtual this year, the overall initiative is in other ways more designed inclusive and covers the entire town, not just West Hartford Center and Blue Back Square.
“Stroll Your Own Way encourages everyone to explore all of our commercial districts in West Hartford and appreciate the efforts of local businesses that went the extra mile to bring you holiday joy,” said Kristen Gorski, the Town of West Hartford’s economic development coordinator and one of the event organizers.
The goal, organizers said, is to bring holiday fun and spirit to the community, in ways that are safe.
West Hartford’s Ballet Theatre Company and Playhouse on Park, as well as the West Hartford Art League and Noah Webster House & West Hartford Historical Society are hosting special holiday events that are also part of Stroll Your Own Way, as is Chabad of Greater Hartford’s annual “Fire On Ice” Chanukah celebration on Dec. 13, which will be a drive-in event this year in the Town Hall parking lot.
A schedule of events can be found as a PDF below, and organizers also suggest checking the Chamber of Commerce website for new events that may be added.
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Even though Santa will not be in the mall, he is available through a live video meeting at http://www.talktosanta.com