Warren hearkens in the holidays with 34th Holiday Festival

By Ethan Hartley
Posted 11/29/22

Unless you were there, and we hope you were, it’s hard to adequately describe the feeling of participating in the festival — the 34th annual celebration of its kind.

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Warren hearkens in the holidays with 34th Holiday Festival


A crowd of a couple hundred people, many clutching complimentary cups of hot cocoa or cider, huddled against a chilly but bearable wind coming from the Palmer River near the intersection of Water and Baker Streets. The energy was palpable as the minutes counted down to the illumination of Water Street.

A young child, riding piggyback on their dad’s shoulders, was delighted to realize they were at the perfect height to high-five a stilt-wearing performer from Circus Dynamics, who kindly obliged and smiled widely upon seeing the child’s excitement. Two more kids copied the move shortly after. A countdown began soon after, and cheers volleyed from the masses as the lights along the waterfront thoroughfare flicked on.

Then came the joyful meandering up Baker Street following behind the festive serenading from the Mt. Hope marching band, leading to a packed Main Street with many more hundreds gathered up and down the sidewalks on either side, and even more joined up to be a part of the throng of happiness leading to Town Hall. The Mt. Hope High School Vocal Ensemble led the crowd in a few classic carols (with noticeable crowd participation adding to the excitement), before the long-awaited moment that Main Street illuminated its colorful array as far as the eye could see, and the crowd released a holiday-inspired burst of catharsis.

Unless you were there, and we hope you were, it’s hard to adequately describe the feeling of participating in the festival — the 34th annual celebration of its kind.

For Elwood Donnelly, who just finished up in his first year as the maestro in charge of the volunteer festival committee — which organizes the roughly two dozen volunteers and many more sponsors required to make the festival happen — the whole thing came together as well as could be expected.

“Everyone has been giving us nice comments. The weather held up for us. It was a little tough setting up because it kept drizzling and stopping, drizzling and stopping,” he said. “But then the sun came out and the whole thing turned magical.”

Donnelly praised all involved in the process, from the volunteers and sponsors to the members of the Warren Police Department, fire department, and various Town officials who collaborate to make sure the event is safe and free from unnecessary chaos.

“Everything just came together and everyone was really helpful and cooperative and hospitable to me,” Donnelly said. “I had a meeting a few days before the event with the town manager, with the DPW director, the fire chief, the police chief and the assistant police chief…They were just all on board.”

Donnelly was also delighted that around 100 people completed the scavenger hunt set out as a challenge on festival brochures handed out to attendees of the event, which tasked them with finding various spots around town. Other prizes included a free pizza each month for a year, and a brand-new Water Rower exercise machine, courtesy of WaterRower.

“It was my first one so I was worried and sleepless for a couple of days, but it just turned into this magical moment,” Donnelly said. “Both days were just perfect in almost every way.”

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Jim McGaw

A lifelong Portsmouth resident, Jim graduated from Portsmouth High School in 1982 and earned a journalism degree from the University of Rhode Island in 1986. He's worked two different stints at East Bay Newspapers, for a total of 18 years with the company so far. When not running all over town bringing you the news from Portsmouth, Jim listens to lots and lots and lots of music, watches obscure silent films from the '20s and usually has three books going at once. He also loves to cook crazy New Orleans dishes for his wife of 25 years, Michelle, and their two sons, Jake and Max.