Hartford twinkles again in a new version of the Festival of Light
The Hartford Courant
November 24, 2011
Tampering with holiday tradition — any holiday tradition — is done at one's peril. But so far, turning Hartford's decades-old downtown Festival of Light into Winterfest in Bushnell Park seems to have succeeded.
This year, some tweaking of the formula holds the promise for even more public approval.
Almost as soon as the city's Constitution Plaza was built in the mid-1960s, the Festival of Light, in which the dozens of trees on the plaza were festooned with tiny lights the day after Thanksgiving, was born. It was an instant success, immediately becoming the region's way of signaling that the Christmas season had arrived.
Attending the annual illumination ceremony and carol sing — or at least watching it on television — was as much a part of the holiday season as a visit to Santa Claus at G. Fox & Co.
But times change. The once hoped-for goal of making Constitution Plaza the hub of a revitalized downtown Hartford never quite got off the ground, and in recent years the Festival of Light was seen by many as a tired reminder of past glories.
Enter the Greater Hartford Arts Council. In 2010, with help from the city and from corporate sponsors, it moved the festival to Bushnell Park and made its focus a skating rink.
Despite a few grumbles from traditionalists, the revamped event was generally judged a success, except for one thing: the lights. Instead of thousands of twinkling lights in trees, Bushnell Park was illuminated by colored spotlights and searchlights. Not the same, critics complained.
To its credit, the Arts Council took heed. Today, along with a skating rink double the size of last year's, the park's trees will be ablaze with twinkling lights. (Ceremonies start at 4 p.m. with cast members of Hartford Stage's "A Christmas Carol" and Hartford Children's Theater's "Hairspray," as well as a quartet from CONCORA.) "It was very clear that that's what everybody knows and loves, and we're happy to be able to provide that," said an Arts Council spokeswoman.
Good for the Winterfest organizers for listening to people, and providing what they want. This seasonal event is one more reason for the public to enjoy the many recreational, cultural and arts opportunities Hartford affords. Let the skating begin!
Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant.
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