Sailing into the SEASON
MYSTIC EVENT BRINGS NAUTICAL FLAVOR TO THE HOLIDAYS
HHere comes Santa Claus, here comes Santa Claus, right down Santa Claus… river? The holiday tune typically ends with “lane” but for the organizers of the Tree Lighting and Lighted Holiday Boat Parade, the change makes sense. For the last five years, the last Saturday in November has been the day that spectators assemble along the Mystic River to watch a tree lighting and boat parade that kicks off the holiday season.
Hosted by the Greater Mystic Chamber of Commerce, the day fea- tures a visit by the bearded old man to Mystic Seaport before he heads to Mystic River Park, where he listens to children’s holiday wish lists. A tree lighting ceremony begins at 6 p.m., and about a half hour later, the first vessels begin making their way down the river toward the park.
TriciaWalsh, the manager of membership and operations, began working with the chamber earlier this year, but had previously attended the event as a spectator.
“I just used to come down and see it and I thought it was gorgeous,” she says. “But there is a lot of behind-thescenes work that you don’t realize, like working with the towns of Stonington and Groton to get permits. It’s neat to be a part of it.”
In recent years, more than 20 boats have participated in the holiday parade, which requires owners to tap into their creativity. Spectators typically start gathering around noon, when boaters are putting the final touches on their vessels, says Tricia Cunningham, chamber president.
“Last year we had snow geese. One boat had fish jumping out of the water,” says Cunningham. “It’s not just red and green lights. Many people have themes, like Christmas in Paradise, a boat that featured palm trees.
“People definitely go all out (to) be creative. We don’t set any limits, except that we don’t want too many Santas,” says the chamber president. “We don’t want to confuse the little ones.”
Twenty-eight boats made the trip down Mystic River last year, and Cunningham hopes for more of the same this November. Typically, more power boats than sailboats take part in the festivities, but Cunningham is hoping to increase numbers for the latter group.
There is no fee to watch the show or enter a vessel in the parade, however, spectators and participants are asked to contribute a new, unwrapped toy. The gifts are donated to the Pawcatuck Neighborhood Center.
There is no boat too big or too small for the parade, which leaves Mystic Seaport and goes down river before ending at the train bridge. The procession then makes a loop and heads back to the Seaport.
“The largest boat was when we had the Valiant and the smallest was a little row boat, right down to a little dinghy, that has participated,” says Cunningham. The best decorated vessel receives the distinction of “Miss Mystic,” a prize that comes with the title and flag to hang from the boat.
The other categories are: Most Charismatic Crew; Most Innovative Vessel; and Best Dressed Vessel.
Parade participants are asked to submit an application, which includes the name, size and type of vessel, along with the boat’s theme, if any.
“There is no limit to the number of participants, but we are growing every year, so this helps us have a good idea,” of the final tally, says Cunningham.
The chamber is accepting applications up to a week before the event.
THE PARTICIPATING BOATS FORM A VIVID DISPLAY BOTH ON AND OFF THE WATER. PHOTO JEFF EVANS / THE DAY.
SIMPLE WHITE LIGHTS DRESS UP THIS BEAUTIFUL BOAT. JEFF EVANS / THE DAY