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New Durham lights up for the holidays


December 02, 2020
NEW DURHAM – Residents will have an eyeful of holiday spirit this year as parts of town are lighted up like never before.

Parks and Recreation Director Celeste Chasse has expanded her own love of Christmas lights and decorations to become town-wide events.

"We had the decorating contest last year," she said, "and it was well-received, so we'll do it again this year."

Beginning this week, homeowners and business owners who want to join the fun can enter the Holiday Lights Decorating Challenge and decorate their buildings in hopes of becoming the most bedecked in town.

Chasse has partnered with the recreation departments in Wolfeboro, Tuftonboro, Ossipee, Wakefield, and Rochester for this activity.

"We call ourselves Our Towns Community Rec," she said. "The judges will pick one house from each town."

The group will produce a map of all of the entries in the towns, "so people can drive around and see them."

To enter, participants need to send in their names and addresses to ourtownsrec@gmail.com no later than Dec. 18. One winner from each community will be announced on Dec. 22.

Her personal tradition of driving through areas bright with festive lights has led to another event, new to New Durham. Light Up Your Night Christmas Trail is slated for Thursday, Dec. 10 and Friday, Dec. 11 from 5:30 – 7:30 p.m. at the 1772 Meetinghouse on Old Bay Road.

"I love Christmas lights and decorations," Chasse said. "It's a passion with me. Every year when I drive around to see light displays, I think, 'How cool would it be to have something like this right here in town that people could come and enjoy?'"

This year, her thought is coming to fruition. She already had a jump on things; for the big Halloween event, she and volunteers had strung lights along part of the nature trail behind the Meetinghouse.

"We had lights up for the haunted trail, so now we're putting them all along the longer trail. It's going to be just stunning. People can come and see the lights practically in their own backyard."

Several Christmas events have been held at the 1772 Meetinghouse, sponsored by the Meetinghouse Restoration Committee (MRC), including an evening with Charles Dickens' characters, Christmas caroling, and a comedy performance.

The recreation department in the past has joined with the MRC to present sleigh rides and performances of 'Twas the Night Before Christmas there.

Chasse said donations have provided for the purchase of additional lights and she has also been granted a small budget from the Recreation Commission to purchase more.

And collaboration seems to be paramount in her department. She is partnering with other recreation departments for the holiday decorating contest and with the New Durham Public Library for the Christmas lighted trail event.

"We do a lot of things with the library," Chasse said.

During the 2019-20 school year, the two departments held the afterschool Spectrum program. In the past, Score With Reading enabled young soccer players to write books about their sporting experiences. Pumpkin carving on the library's front lawn has been an annual event for years thanks to the partnership, and this past autumn, with the library closed due to Covid-19 concerns, staff members moved their Halloween extravaganza to the Meetinghouse to join forces with the recreation department.

High on the library's wish list is a storywalk, where laminated pages of a book are attached to stakes installed along an outdoor path. Readers/walkers are directed along the trail to the next page. Combining physical activity with literacy is a perfect fit for the partnership between the library and the recreation department.

Because there is insufficient space for a full-fledged storywalk on the library grounds, staff members have had their eyes on the Meetinghouse nature trails, along with permanent posts and frames for the story pages, for a while now.

"The lighted Christmas trail is a great opportunity for the library," Chasse said. "We'll be setting up a temporary walk for this event."

Just as there are twists and turns along the track, there is a twist in the library's storywalk, also.

Based on Charles Dickens' holiday favorite of similar name, "A New Durham Christmas Carol" is set in New Durham, rather than England, and during 1816.

There's some local history, to be sure, but the main objective is entertainment and the story is suitable for all ages.

Much more than twinkling lights in the woods and a seasonal story await attendees of Light Up Your Night, though.

Christmas carols will be piped along the trail and a holiday movie will be projected on the front of the Meetinghouse. Costumed characters are planned to appear throughout the storywalk and kids will have a chance to meet Santa and make s'mores. Inside the building, hot chocolate will be served alongside a festive tree.

Ample parking is available. Face masks are required and the event is free, although donations are welcome. Social distancing will be maintained. If there is snow on the ground, parents may bring sleds to pull their children.

Volunteers are still needed for a variety of tasks. If interested in helping to string lights, be on the grounds during the event, or put together costumes, contact Chasse at ndrec@newdurhamnh.us.

"We're going to make it happen," Chasse said of the winter wonderland currently in the works. "I'm doing segments and the library is doing segments and we're pulling it all together."

All told, residents will have a bright holiday to look forward to.

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