After 25 years, the annual Grand Illumination Christmas celebration in the center of downtown seems to be a natural part of the community’s fabric, second only to the Fourth of July festivities. The Bristol Christmas festival celebrates its 25th anniversary this year. And that, even to the woman who inspired the idea, is nothing short of a Christmas miracle in itself.
“In 1987 I wrote a letter to Halsey Herreshoff,” said Dottie Cordeiro. “I wrote him a program and suggested we have an event to light the tree.”
The tree, she recalled, “was a huge tree” that was since removed and replaced with the tree that is now the focal point outside the Burnside building.
Mr. Herreshoff, who was the town administrator at the time, liked the idea. In fact, he envisioned much more than a simple tree lighting ceremony and dubbed the event the Grand Illumination.
“He said he’d seen white lights used in Europe, and I thought that would be fine,” Ms. Cordeiro said.
The first year, said Ms. Cordeiro, 1,000 people must have come to the town for the tree lighting.
“I never expected that many people to show up. I was stunned. Business people were enthusiastic,” she said.
Although Ms. Cordeiro only helped organize the event for the first three years, she watched it grow from a tree lighting ceremony to an all day festival.
“All I wanted Halsey to do was to light the tree and sing some carols. The fact that it’s still going on is incredible,” she said. “It was like lighting a match. It just grew.”
To honor the two people responsible for inspiring such a time honored community tradition, this year’s Spirit of Christmas Award will be given to Ms. Cordeiro and Mr. Herreshoff who share credit as the event founders. That decision was made by Antonio Teixeira, chairman of the Christmas festival committee.
“I knew last year that we’d recognize Dottie and Halsey this year. I am very excited for having the two people who started the event honored,” he said.
To commemorate the 25th anniversary, the Christmas committee is hosting its first ever Christmas Snow Ball.
In years past a small award ceremony would take place in the Burnside building, with a simple reception afterward.
“This year we said let’s go one step further from the little gatherings,” Mr. Teixeira said.
The Christmas Snow Ball will be held at Linden Place on Friday, Nov. 30 at which time the Spirit of Christmas awards will be presented.
“I still have a lot of ideas I’d like to see implemented,” Ms. Cordeiro said.
Among them, she said, she’d like to see more window displays, “not as big as they have in New York,” but “animated” decorations. In addition, she’d like to see the “piped in” music go away, and replaced with “minstrels walking along the street.”