City's 'Last Night,' meets 'Holiday Stroll' for one very festive evening

City's 'Last Night,' meets 'Holiday Stroll' for one very festive evening

Horse-drawn carriage rides were a special attraction last year when Woonsocket kicked off the season by lighting its Christmas tree and then welcoming Santa Claus. Carolers entertained the hundreds of shoppers along Main Street. This year's Holiday Stroll takes place Wednesday, Dec. 11, from 4 to 8 p.m. in downtown Woonsocket, from Monument Square to Market Square.

WOONSOCKET - The Main Street Holiday Stroll, an annual celebration of the season with traditional caroling, merry-making and visits with Old Saint Nick, will have more than a little extra holiday sparkle this year.

That's because organizers have teamed up with the ambitious folk who put together Woonsocket's 125th Anniversary Block Party to create one massive, festive, city event.

"It's really two events in one," said Ainsley Morisseau Cantoral, chairwoman of the Holiday Stroll Committee. "What we have planned is really pretty exciting."

Fans of the stroll in years past will still find the singing, Santa and seasonal fun that have made the event a success. Restaurants and shops will open their doors, offering activities, bargains and giveaways. Twenty Main Street businesses have signed up to participate, and according to Cantoral, all of the restaurants will be open and "hopping with specials."

Vendors, including artists and specialty gift dealers, will occupy the Le Moulin building, and will also be scattered in buildings and on sidewalks along Main Street selling their wares. At the mini park beside City Hall, Woonsocket Police officers will be collecting Toys for Tots, and kids will have the chance to sit with a special visitor from the North Pole.

But that's just the start of the fun at this year's stroll, which has also been dubbed "Last Night" honoring the close to the city's 125th anniversary.

To start, the stroll will be much longer this year, running the length of Main Street, from Market Square to Monument Square, instead of stopping at the Depot as it has in years past.

"There will be things going on all the way down the street," said Cantoral.

In 2013, around a dozen windows and storefronts have been painted in honor of the celebration with authentic designs from the Polar Express, the seasonal train ride that takes off throughout the month from the Woonsocket Depot.

"When you walk up and down Main Street, you get the feeling like you're on the Polar Express," Cantoral said.

Local artist Ron Deziel has painted the windows of several vacant storefronts, while at other businesses artists from RiverzEdge have created the images on plywood, so that they can be reused in future years. Those creations have been sponsored by the Blackstone Valley Tourism Council - the group that operates the holiday winter train rides.

The event will take place from 4 to 8 p.m. on Wednesday, Dec. 11, with Santa arriving "in a grand fashion" at 4:30, then staying in the Mini Park to greet visitors.

In front of Beacon Charter High School for the Arts, the stroll will include a new Group Caroling Competition from 4:30 to 6 p.m. Teams of two to 10 will be asked to sing two holiday songs, including one traditional and one contemporary carol, and judges will score their performance. The entrance fee for the competition is one unwrapped gift donated to Toys for Tots.

WNRI's Jeff Gamache will serve as emcee at the contest, which will also be broadcast live on the radio.

"It's something we've never done before and I think its really going to grow," said Cantoral.

Groups can sign up for the contest on the day of the event, time permitting, or can register in advance by contacting Tina Go at tgo@beaconart.org.

Beacon students will also be hosting Storytime inside the school, with dramatic readings from several holiday story books.

In the Liberty Building at 154 Main St., Mount Saint Charles Academy Choir will perform, and the school's bell ringers will add a little jingle to the holiday classics. The Good Shepherd choir, meanwhile, will sing at Le Moulin from 6 to 7 p.m. Other musical groups taking part in the festivities include the Beacon Glee Club, the Woonsocket High School Brass Band, and the Very Merry Dickens Carolers.

At River Island Park, if the ice is frozen, there will be a curling display, where skaters from Cranston demonstrate the skill, using a broom to push around a metal discus.

"If the ice is ready, there will activities the entire time," said Cantoral.

This year, Last Night organizers have added on a heated food and beverage tent to the celebration. In the Mullen Lot, across from The Woonsocket Call building, the band Idyll Minds will play live music at 6:30 p.m., followed by the rising of the "Woonsocket Rocket," a display organizers have described as a "fire breathing ornamental piece." The rocket, they say, represents the city moving forward into a brighter future. A fireworks display will follow.

The date of the event - Dec. 11 - coincides with the birthday of Woonsocket's first mayor, George H. Grant, and in the Union Hall of the Museum of Work and Culture, a special play honoring the city's first leader will be performed throughout the evening, with excerpts from Grant's inaugural speech delivered some 125 years ago.