Even the heart of the Grinch himself might have swelled a size or two last weekend at Winthrop Town Centre when the lights flicked on at the largest Christmas tree in the area.
Bedecked in lights and ornaments made by local children, the tree lighting ceremony was the centerpiece of an evening of Christmas activities that included food, entertainment and arts and crafts.
Now in its ninth year, the ceremony was sponsored by Winthrop Arts Inc., a nonprofit group established in September to promote the arts.
“It was really great to see the community coming together and having so much fun,” said Kay Sullivan, president of the Winthrop Arts board.
The family-friendly gathering also included live Christmas music with performances by the Winthrop Charter School Chorus and the Brandon Ballet, among others. Attendees also had a chance to create their own specialized holiday ornament at a crafts booth.
More than 200 families also gathered on the lawn at Winthrop to watch “A Muppet Christmas Carol” immediately after the tree lighting, with many relaxing on lawn chairs and blankets, the rain forecast for the night holding off for the evening.
The tree — officially lit by Sullivan’s mom, Beverly Beckett, who was also celebrating her 90th birthday — was the star of the show. Countless couples and families took the opportunity to snap holiday pictures in front of the tree with youngsters, no doubt fueled in part by the free hot chocolate, creating their own Christmas ornaments and hanging them on the tree.
“Watching children put ornaments they had made on the tree was my favorite part of the evening,” said Doris Weatherford, a Winthrop Arts board member. “If you look at the tree, you can see the ornaments are about three feet off the ground because that’s as high as they could reach.”
Initially formed in 2011 to manage the Winthrop Art Festival, as the festival grew each year, Winthrop Arts was formally established as a nonprofit Sept. 11 to create “a bridge between the arts and community in tangible and meaningful ways with a focus on developing and inspiring the next generation of artists and patrons. By bringing the arts into central focus, we deepen our roots, enrich our local community, expand our global reach, and strengthen our humanity,” according to the group’s mission statement.
Members of the group’s “board of visionaries” include Crisha Murray-Scolaro, vice president; Kathy Collins, treasurer; Phyllis Guthman, secretary; Vincent J. Kral; Dr. Earl Lennard; Bryant Martinez, town artist; Katharine Sullivan-Dawes, “director of everything”; Doris Weatherford; and Dr. Roy Yanong.
While the Christmas program was two months in the making, Winthrop Arts members are also busy planning the official launch of the Winthrop Arts Factory in the new year. Based at Winthrop, it is a program where participants will learn how to create different forms of art and grow an appreciation of all the visual arts. Admission fees are yet to be determined, but scholarships will be available for the program, organizers said.
“We really want to be an arts destination for Eastern Hillsborough County,” Kay Sullivan said. “That’s our dream. The arts are an enriching experience that helps develop the whole person.”
For more information on Winthrop Arts, visit www.winthroparts.org or call 917-386-8083.