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Hartford's Annual Holiday Event To Be 'Brighter, Lighter, More Festive'

Free Skating, Bigger Rink And New Name Featured In Holiday Celebration At Bushnell Park

Jenna Carlesso

November 21, 2011

The traditional twinkle lights that were so popular at the Festival of Light in past years will return for this year's holiday event in Bushnell Park, though many other aspects of the 48-year-old celebration will change.

This year's event, now being called Winterfest, will feature a larger skating rink that will be open until Feb. 20.

The display moved to Bushnell Park from Constitution Plaza last year, and the outdoor skating rink, with free admission and skate rental, was a new feature. The rink was judged a success, but the light display drew mixed reviews.

This season, organizers said they worked to highlight the festival's most popular aspects.

"Skating is going to be the primary focus," said Jane Penfield, assistant director for workplace giving at the Greater Hartford Arts Council and project director for Winterfest. "It was such a howling success last year. We were very pleased with the public reception of it."

Last winter, the rink drew more than 20,000 visitors during about four weeks of operation. This year, the rink will be open longer from Nov. 25 to Feb. 20 and it will be bigger. At 80-by-90 feet, it will have twice the square footage of last year's 40-by-90-foot rink and accommodate 140 skaters at a time, up from 70.

This winter's event will not include a traditional tree-lighting. Trees and entrances to the park will be illuminated with the traditional twinkle lights, which weren't included last year, but the ceremonial turning on of the lights won't happen, organizers said. Instead, the park will be lit up by the time spectators arrive.

"We want the park to be a family-friendly, warm, lighted atmosphere that people feel welcome to come to any time of the day or night," Penfield said. "We also want the real focus of this event to be on the active, outdoor participation rather than the passive viewing of the holiday lights. We want people to be able to get right to the skating."

The revamped event drew some criticism last year after organizers decided to decorate the park with colored spotlights and searchlights rather than the twinkle lights seen previously at Constitution Plaza.

"It was very clear that that's what everybody knows and loves, and we're happy to be able to provide that," Penfield said.

The event will begin Nov. 25 with a short procession at 4 p.m. from the Bushnell Park carousel to the skating rink, in front of the Pump House across the park. The procession will be led by Mayor Pedro Segarra; Pucky, the mascot of the Connecticut Whale hockey team; and cast members of "A Christmas Carol" at Hartford Stage.

A ribbon-cutting will follow at about 4:15 p.m., and skating will open to the public at 4:30 p.m. Santa will meet children at the carousel from 4:30 to 9 p.m. on Nov. 25, and will be available at the carousel from noon to 3 p.m. on the first three weekends in December, organizers said.

Bob Crawford, the event director, said Winterfest will be "brighter, lighter and more festive" this year.

"People love the outdoors and they love the activity," he said. "With the skating rink, we intend to encourage that again."

The event costs about $400,000, city officials said, and will be paid for by sponsors including the city, Connecticut Light & Power, Travelers, United Technologies Corp., Mohegan Sun, Aetna, The Hartford and others. It is being presented by iQuilt.

Public skating hours will be 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. every day except holidays. Skating will run from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day, and from 11 a.m. to 1 a.m. on New Year's Eve. For more information about hours or to view a schedule of events, visit http://www.hartford.com.

Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant. To view other stories on this topic, search the Hartford Courant Archives at http://www.courant.com/archives.
| Last update: September 25, 2012 |
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