WESTERLY — Today may be all about the turkey, but Santa Claus and his friends will take center stage this weekend.
On Friday, the man in red will arrive in downtown Westerly at 6 p.m. via firetruck with an entourage that includes another local holiday favorite, Westerly’s own Winter Lady. On Saturday, Santa will make an appearance via tug boat in Mystic, then stop off in Wilcox Park before heading to Watch Hill for another fire truck arrival at the Ocean House.
Actually, said Lisa Konicki, president of the Ocean Community Chamber of Commerce, the organization sponsoring Friday night’s event in downtown Westerly, Santa and his friends are scheduled to arrive in several firetrucks.
“Last year Santa and his merry-makers arrived in five fire trucks,” she said. “He comes with a whole cast of characters.”
Konicki, who said Friday’s event, now in its 35th year, has become a beloved tradition for local families, thanks in large part to the efforts of Jeanne Donato, the Winter Lady.
Konicki said preparations for Santa’s annual arrival typically begin earlier on Friday, when a large group of volunteers gathers en masse at the Donato residence.
“It’s like Santa’s village,” said Konicki, explaining that Donato matches volunteers with the most appropriate costumes.
“She decides who will be an angel and who will be a snowflake and who will be a grinch,” Konicki said, noting that Lucky and Mrs. Duck — characters from the chamber’s annual duck race, will join the costumed character brigade.
“Jeanne is one of the unsung heroes of Westerly,” said Konicki, who spent Tuesday afternoon visiting downtown businesses and dropping off goodie bags for Small Business Saturday. “We couldn’t do this without her.”
On Saturday, Santa is expected to pay a visit to Wilcox Park for the library’s annual tree-lighting ceremony at 3:30 p.m. on the esplanade where local actor Mark Sullivan will read Clement Moore’s “‘Twas the Night Before Christmas,” and Chorus of Westerly Music Director Andrew Howell will lead those gathered in singing some familiar holiday carols.
“This is sort of our last big event for the 125th anniversary celebration,” said Julie Holland of Pawcatuck, who co-chaired the steering committee overseeing the anniversary events. “The staff — the talented, hard-working staff — has been working so hard to get all the trees up inside the library.”
Hot chocolate will be provided by Washington Trust and candy canes will be provided by the Westerly-Pawcatuck Downtown Business Association during the tree-lighting event, Holland said.
The tree-lighting celebration was created as a way “to bring joy to people at this time of year,” said Holland, adding that the year-long series of events has been successful as far as outreach efforts.
“It’s been a great reminder to people that the library is a community building,” she said, noting that the popular “Treasures Through Time” exhibit will remain up in the Hoxie Gallery until Saturday. “I think some people forgot how much fun the library can be … and how much of a community center it really is.”
Santa will then hop aboard another fire truck and head to Watch Hill for the annual “Christmas Tree Lighting and Open House” starting at 4:30 p.m. on the putting green and verandah at the Ocean House, where Daniel Hostettler, president and group managing director of the Ocean House Collection, will be waiting to greet him — with open arms.
“It’s my favorite time of year,” said Hostettler, admitting to a case of preseason jitters.
“Each year I worry that no one will come,” he said, “and each year I’m surprised with the number of people who do come.”
Snacks and beverages will be served during the ceremony. The tree-lighting is free, but guests are invited to bring wrapped toys for the Ocean House toy drive.
“We love Santa and Christmas so much that we’ve added some extra events,” added Hostettler.
New this year, he said, will be a buffet dinner with Santa in the Seaside Ballroom where Santa will walk around and visit children following the tree-lighting ($48 per adult, $35 per child) and a Christmas Market set up in the parking lot across the street.
“It will be a pop-up market,” said Hostettler, “sort of like the European Christmas markets.”
Fourteen vendors will set up shop under the 14 red tents in the parking lot, he said, to sell their holiday wares.
Also on sale will be Kevin the Snow-Bellman toys, plush collectible snowmen named in honor of Kevin Emery, the longest-tenured bellman at the Ocean House.
“They’re all boxed up and ready to go,” said Hostettler, noting that all sales of the limited-edition holiday toy will go into the recently-established Ocean House Fund for Charitable Giving.
Back in town on Saturday, Santa might just show up at the Knickerbocker Music Center where local musician Will Evans, along with his full band, will return for his annual “Make a Little Change Thanksgiving Show.”
“We are giving the gift of clean beaches to our community this year,” said Evans, the popular former lead singer of roots rock outfit Barefoot Truth.“The band will also play a set of Tom Petty songs in tribute to the late great rock ‘n roll Hall of Famer.”
The evening will begin with the premiere of a new surf film from the Rhode Island Surfriders and a talk from a representative from New England Science and Sailing Foundation who plans to discuss plastics in local waterways, Evans said.
On Sunday morning, Evans said, folks filled with the holiday spirit can don their Santa hats and join other nature-lovers at Fenway Beach for a holiday community beach clean.
“Last year we picked up over two hundred pounds of trash in one hour,” he said. Helpers are invited to High Tide Juice Bar on Beach Street for an after-party with free coffee and smoothie samples for all volunteers, he said.
Evans said he plans to play a few songs at the after-party. Maybe his version of “It’s Beginning to Look a Lot Like Christmas?” perhaps?