It may be scary, talking about Christmas this early before Halloween, but careful planning makes the joyous season what it is in our area, where expectations for a winter wonderland have become high. This is especially true for the group Friends of Portsmouth, which spends a quarter of the year in prep or working their most notable event, Winterfest.
Most area residents who have lived in the area in recent years can recall the beautiful image the group fabricates in the heart of historic Boneyfiddle. The ice rink, lit trees and buildings, a workshop for Santa, replica Christmas vehicles, carriage rides, shops willing to serve hot chocolate and donuts. It is hard to leave Winterfest and not feel a sense of magic, with warm food and drink in your belly, the crisp winter air and scent of pine, and the sounds of skates sliding across ice and families having fun.
What people may not realize, however, is that the festive scene is only possible thanks to over 300 volunteers that make the massive project possible.
The group makes the work possible by filling entire shifts with groups of people from businesses, community service organizations, schools, clubs, and more. Executive Director for Friends of Portsmouth Bryan Smith said the group practices this approach, because attendance of volunteers is usually greater, whereas single volunteer attendance can waiver. Single volunteers are still welcome to participate, however.
“It is pretty straight forward work,” Smith said. “You’re working in the skate shack, handing out skates and collecting them back to clean them. You’re working in the Christmas store, bagging gifts and answering questions, finding a special shirt size or something like that. It is simple stuff.”
Interested volunteers can either email Smith at [email protected] or message Friends of Portsmouth on Facebook.
“I think volunteers leave with a sense of community pride,” Smith said. “They feel good, they enjoy it; I don’t think anyone has ever left Winterfest saying, ‘I’ll never do this again.’”
Smith explained that the pride volunteers leave with is likely due to the good spirits of the event and what it means to the community, especially the business community that can use all the help it can get.
“It’s huge. Anytime you can bring tens of thousands of people into downtown to shop, eat, stay, you know, that is a big revenue booster to surrounding businesses and restaurants,” Smith said.
While business development is important, Smith also reflected on the spirit of the event and how people can expect big things.
“Community involvement as a whole makes Winterfest what it is. From volunteers to the people who come out to enjoy it,” Smith said. “It takes a lot to put everything together and everyone plays a role, and we want it to be big. People can expect a lot of new lights downtown; we’ve not decorated it like this before and it is really cool. There will be a new theme this year that I can’t announce just yet. Everyone loved the Grinch theme last year and this year’s theme will be over the top. It may not top our Hallmark Christmas, but we’d like it to be close to it again. I think, with the theme we have, people will be really responsive.”
Smith unveiled a teaser for the new lights on Facebook, which includes intricate tree lighting.
“People love it. Seriously. The positive feedback is great. I think what we’re doing this year will look really cool,” Smith said. “The trees are new, we’re going to light some new buildings, the manger scene will be new on Market Street, instead of down Second Street. It will just be more condensed down.”
While the Amish-made building rentals are full, Smith said people can still register to setup their goods, gifts, and crafts at National Church Residence, where the ECDI’s Women’s Business Center of Central Appalachia is organizing around 20 vendor spots. Interested vendors should reach out to Friends of Portsmouth on Facebook.
Winterfest needs volunteers and vendors as the November 17th opening approaches.
“I think Winterfest as a whole brings out that huge nostalgia of Christmas spirit. You have all the lights, decorations, skating and carriage rides, the families coming down on the weekend with kids and creating lasting memories,” Smith said. “That’s what it really is, building lasting memories.”
Reach Joseph Pratt at (740) 353-3101, by email at [email protected], © 2022 Portsmouth Daily Times, all rights reserved