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November 22. 2012 10:51PM

Downtown Nashua tradition set for Saturday


Thousands of people gather on downtown Nashua to enjoy the Holiday Stroll, a tradition entering its 19th year. Attractions for young and old, the high-spirited and the subdued are available among the event's 30 distinct venues. (COURTESY)


Thousands of people gather in downtown Nashua during a previous Holiday Stroll. This year's stroll will offer 60 performers and attractions in 32 locations. COURTESY 

NASHUA -- The Gate City's biggest annual event is happening this weekend, supported by an army of singers, face painters, magicians - and at the end of it all, the jolliest character of the holiday season, Santa Claus.

The 19th annual Holiday Stroll runs from 5 to 10 p.m. Saturday. The evening begins with a candlelight procession from City Hall to the Hunt Building, where the city's tree is lighted. "You can't miss the (Holiday Stroll.) There's something for everyone," said Rebecca Dixon, director of Great American Downtown.

GAD, a Main Street nonprofit, counts the Holiday Stroll as its biggest event of the year, drawing crowds of 30,000 each year. Like always, there will be a plethora of events in myriad venues - from a classical guitar recital at the Hollis Art Society to the New Hampshire Gay Men's Choir at the Unitarian Universalist Church.

Everything will be downtown, and there will be 32 locations and 60 performers.

By "something for everyone," event planners included all age groups in their preparations. For the tikes, there's the lighting of the Christmas tree and Papa Noel. For the teens, there's a ski and snowboard event. And for the 21-plus, there are the bars.

Where the event has featured a beer garden in previous years - a lucrative attraction for the Stroll but something of a drain on nearby pubs - organizers have nixed the inclusion of alcohol in this year's event.

Dixon said the beer feature would require up to 100 volunteers; instead, they've dedicated those resources to the Stroll Jam, a snow sport spectacle that will bring the Stroll to new heights.

"It was a tough decision to make, but with the rail jam . we had to make a choice."

Asked whether there had ever been any grumbling by bar owners about the beer garden, Dixon said: "I think that everyone is fairly happy that we're not (doing the garden again)."

But above Santa and the giant Christmas tree and the holiday merriment, at its core, the Holiday Stroll is about an incredible range of performance arts.

Classical guitarist Joe Hartnett will play works of J.S. Bach, Barrios, Ta´rrega and Villa Lobos in addition to traditional Christmas music, and the Northern Ballet Theatre will perform Les Patineurs, a dance piece based on ice­-skating. Jonee Earthquake will do instrumental renditions of 1950s and '60s tunes, covering artists from the Beach Boys to The Beatles to Hank Williams, and the Jazz First Trio will play songs from the Great American Songbook, featuring vocalist Pamela Smith.

Food will be available from all corners, ranging from fried dough and hamburgers to fare from the dozen-plus Main Street restaurants that often serve food outdoors. Dixon said there's even going to be a "Whoopie Pie Wagon," as well as cannolis, kettle corn and other sweet and salty treats.

"It's developed over the years to try to meet the needs of what the strollers feel like grabbing on the go," said Dixon.

Not to be missed are the ice sculptors, who this year will be cutting into 35 blocks and 10,000 pounds ofice.

The event is a fundraiser for Great American Downtown and has pulled in as much as $40,000 in previous years. That success is thanks to Sunnyside Acura, Triangle Credit Union, Shaw's and Granite State Credit Union, in addition to the many local businesses that make it happen.

Dixon said people come from far and wide to attend the Stroll. One Upstate New York family, originally from Nashua, includes it in their holiday plans each year to attend the Stroll. "It seems to be an event that has become very near and dear to people's hearts," she said.

Next year will be the 20th anniversary. Dixon said it's going to be big - and by the scope of the Holiday Stroll, when Dixon says big, she means it.

"They've gotten bigger every year, and being the 20th, we hope for some really grand details to the event."

Information on the Holiday Stroll, including a calendar and a detailed listing of the performers, is available at downtownnashua.org.

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Simon Rios may be reached at srios@newstote.com.


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