PAWTUCKET — For Pawtucket, the start of the 2013 holiday season officially begins today with the Winter Wonderland festival. The annual event in Slater Park is celebrating its 15th year, and its opening activities are always eagerly anticipated by residents throughout the city and surrounding communities.
The fun begins at 3:45 p.m., when the Santa’s Parade will step off from Daggett Farm and march to the Looff Carousel. Once there, Santa Claus will make his appearance, along with Pawtucket Mayor Donald Grebien and his family, and other local officials and Winter Wonderland organizers. WJAR meteorologist Kelly Bates, the official Winter Wonderland Weatherwoman, will make her holiday forecasts for the upcoming weekends.
“We will have a marching band in the parade this year for the first time,” said Dawn Goff, one of the festival's lead organizers. “The Tolman High School marching band, under the direction of Mr. Raymond, will join us, and the Tolman High School chorus will be performing.”
The festival will continue through this weekend and the weekend of Dec. 14 and 15. In addition to 435 illuminated Christmas trees, a Victorian Village and other holiday decorations, the historic Looff Carousel will be open, offering 25-cent rides and children's crafts. There are also hayrides and two trains that will wind through the park, plus a food tent. “We added a second train this year so people don't have to wait so long,” Goff added.
Santa will be at the boathouse, and Mrs. Claus will be at the food tent for free visits and/or holiday photos. A heated entertainment tent will provide continual performances by local school groups, choruses, dance studios and musicians.
Additionally, the historic Daggett House is decorated and open for tours, and the Rhode Island Watercolor Society will have art and handcrafted items on display and available for purchase in its gallery.
The local business community, by sponsoring the wooden houses and storefronts that make up the village, is key to the festival's continued success, said Goff. She is pleased to note there are several new sponsors that came on board this year. Among these is The Times, which is proudly sponsoring the 18-foot “Talking Snowman” at this year's Winter Wonderland.
The Winter Wonderland festival is a nonprofit organization run entirely by volunteers in conjunction with the city. It has a board of directors, including president Bob Machowski Jr., who has been part of the event since its inception, and other longtime volunteers like Goff. The committee is always looking for new volunteers and sponsors, noted Goff.
“We try to keep the prices of everything as low as possible,” Goff said. “Our goal is to have a family-oriented event that everyone can afford to attend.” The prices of the hot dogs, hot chocolate and coffee are kept low, and the tickets to the hayride and train cost $2 for children and $3 for adults. There is no admission, and ample free parking is available.