By Lisa Carolin
From the ceremonial lighting of the Christmas tree at Pierce Park on Nov. 30 to the annual Light Parade Dec. 1, to Christmas on Waterloo Farm Dec. 2, the 31st Annual Chelsea Hometown Holiday is a community celebration with a rich history.
According to Bob Pierce, former Executive Director of the Chelsea Area Chamber of Commerce, owner of Pierce’s Pastries, and resident of the Chelsea area, the history of Hometown Holiday events goes back to the Festival of Lights in the early 1990s.
“It was a 3-day event that began with Santa’s arrival and the tree lighting at Pierce Park, but moved downtown in the mid-1990s to what is now Katie’s Korner at the Chelsea District Library,” said Pierce. “You could meet Santa at the UAW Hall, which is now the Ugly Dog Distillery.”
Merchants were encouraged to do different events like the house decorating contest. There was also the Lessons of Festivals and Carols hosted at the Chelsea Retirement Center where there were readings and singing.
“Around 1997, when we opened Pierce’s Pastries, there was a movement afoot amongst many of the merchants to get more organized and do some events on Saturday,” said Pierce. “In 1997, we hosted Joe Weber, who told stories of Christmas about his home in Germany and about St. Nicholas.”
Weber’s wife made him an outfit, and he became St. Nicholas and greeted people in the streets and passed out gold coin chocolate candies.
Gigi’s Flowers let people build and decorate their own bird feeders.
“In 2003, when I took over the Chamber, we formed a group called the Retail Advisory Council,” said Pierce. “That’s when the name changed from Festival of Lights to Hometown Holiday.”
Merchants were encouraged to decorate their stores, offer activities, and come up with common light themes.
Santa’s Workshop was started at the Depot, where it has stayed until this year when it moves to a new location in the Chelsea First Congregational Church.
“There was a horse and carriage some years that delivered Santa as well as a train and then a fire truck,” said Pierce. “The Common Chords group came to town, the library got very involved, and a craft show began at the fairgrounds. 2003 was really the start of what we have today.”
Pierce remembers the Holiday Light Parade, which started with about 16 floats and now has more than 35, and used to end at the Teddy Bear Factory. The new tradition is for the parade to end at the Main Street Church where the after-parade party will be held.
He said that 2004 was the only year that the parade was stopped by a train while trying to cross the railroad tracks.
“There are a lot of great anecdotes,” said Pierce. “It’s astounding the number of volunteers who bring forth their time and talent for free. Everybody stepped up to be a part of this just out of the joyous feeling of being a community member of Chelsea. That continues today.”
“Hometown Holiday weekend is a heartwarming presentation of what this community’s all about,” Pierce said.