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Concord councilors talk of combining Christmas events

Molly Blanchard, 3, sits on her uncle Ted Blanchard'd shoulders at the annual tree lighting in downtown Concord; November 23, 2012.

(SAMANTHA GORESH / Monitor staff)

Molly Blanchard, 3, sits on her uncle Ted Blanchard'd shoulders at the annual tree lighting in downtown Concord; November 23, 2012. (SAMANTHA GORESH / Monitor staff)

It’s only July, but the Concord City Council is looking ahead to Christmas.

Councilor Candace Bouchard suggested this week that the annual Christmas tree lighting ceremony could join forces with Intown Concord’s Midnight Merriment event. Residents are often busy shopping on Black Friday when the Christmas tree lighting is held, Bouchard said, and moving it a week later to coincide with Midnight Merriment could create “something very big and fabulous.”

That idea didn’t sit well with organizers of the Christmas tree lighting.

Councilor Dick Patten, who has led the Christmas tree lighting for many years, is not open to changing its date. He did not weigh in at Monday’s city council meeting, but he shook his head as other councilors discussed the idea.

Patten did not return messages left this week. In a blog post on the Concord Patch website, Patten wrote that he is “thoroughly against this,” and detailed the history of his involvement in the Christmas tree lighting ceremony. The 60-year-old city councilor wrote that he’s organized the event for 42 years, and this year’s Christmas tree lighting is already scheduled for Nov. 29.

“I was told I was selfish by a councilor for not moving it,” he wrote. “Instead of thanking me, I felt like I was being condemned.”

Tom Cusano, owner of the Stove Barn on Loudon Road, returned a phone call to the Monitor this week on behalf of Patten. Cusano said he is acting chairman of the Christmas tree lighting committee, though Patten handles “99 percent of the logistics.” The tree lighting is sponsored by the Concord Grange, according to Patten’s blog post, and he collects donations to support the festivities.

The Christmas tree lighting has always been held the day after Thanksgiving, Cusano said, and is meant as a religious celebration of the start of the Christmas season and Hanukkah. It also includes fireworks, a petting zoo and local radio station promotions.

Intown Concord’s holiday event doesn’t fit into the same tradition, Cusano said. Midnight Merriment, held the first Friday of December, encourages families to come downtown for holiday activities while stores stay open for evening shopping.

“They’re trying to capitalize on the Christmas season, but the two ideals don’t jibe,” Cusano said. “They want to make money. We want to have a Christmas and Hanukkah celebration.”

Councilor Jennifer Kretovic, who spoke in support of Bouchard’s idea Monday night, said Midnight Merriment isn’t only about shopping. Its activities include caroling, Christmas stories for children, refreshments and visits with Santa.

Kretovic said she asked the Merchants Roundtable, an informal group of downtown business owners, to discuss their thoughts on combining the events. Because construction will begin on Main Street this fall and pause at the end of November, Kretovic said it’s important that downtown merchants have a successful holiday season.

“It’s not just about the holiday thing – it’s about trying to make sure that our merchants are going to survive past Christmas,” Kretovic said.

Bouchard, who represents Ward 9 on the Heights, said combining the events could help more than just the downtown businesses. The day after Thanksgiving is an important shopping day for every business in the city, she said.

“I just thought that we could just make a bigger event where the two organizations just combine their efforts, and I think it would just be better economics for the community,” Bouchard said. “And, I think, more enjoyable for the families not having two events on two different weekends and people choosing one or the other.”

Mayor Jim Bouley said he’ll appoint a committee of councilors who are interested in discussing the two events. He asked councilors Monday night to contact him if they’re interested in participating.

“I guess I think this is all worth a discussion,” Bouley said. “If there is a better way, another way that the whole community can come together, then why wouldn’t we have the discussion?”

Kretovic said she was discouraged when Patten told her he will not participate in the discussion.

“The first thing he said to me (after Monday’s meeting) was, ‘I’m the president of the Grange, I make these decisions, I say no,’ ” she said. “It wasn’t a productive conversation after that, that’s probably the best way to put it.”

Kretovic, a former executive director of Concord 2020, said the same discussion was raised about 10 years ago, but the Christmas tree lighting organizers were not interested in collaborating with Midnight Merriment.

Government services are used for the event, Bouley said. The state strings the lights on the Christmas tree, he said, and the city installs the tree. He’d also like discussions to include: Intown Concord; the Grange; the Knights of Columbus, which cosponsors the nativity scene placed on the State House Plaza; and Louis Karno & Co., the public relations firm hired by the city to work during the Main Street construction.

Liza Poinier, Intown Concord’s operations manager, was at the city council meeting Monday. Bouchard asked about combining the events after a presentation about Intown Concord.

“We’re open to talking about it,” Poinier said yesterday. “Both events are scheduled at the moment for 2013, but you know, there’s time between now and then. So we’ll see what happens.”

(Laura McCrystal can be reached at 369-3312 or
lmccrystal@cmonitor.com or on Twitter @lmccrystal.)

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