With temperatures hovering in the upper 60s, it would be hard to say Boneyfiddle was a winter wonderland Sunday night. But the Christmas spirit, however you personally define it, seemed to be pretty much all over downtown Portsmouth for the first night of the Friends of Portsmouth Toyota Winterfest at Market Square.
The opening was delayed by one day because of heavy rains Saturday.
“It just doesn’t seem like Portsmouth,” said John Goddard as he, his wife and daughter joined hundreds of others wandering around the heart of Winterfest near the temporary ice-skating rink and the giant Christmas tree which was lit up to the accompaniment of plenty of cheers a tad before 6 p.m.
“It kind of reminds me of River Days,” remarked Jenny Goddard about the crowds gathered for Winterfest. “But I like it.”
The only complaint voiced by this family regarded the long line for the ice-skating rink. With the surface made of a special plastic instead of actual ice, the rink saw plentiful use despite the spring-like temperature.
At one point, the line to use the skating rink, 35 x 65 feet in diameter, stretched back to the Vendor Village set up along Second Street and then snaked toward Market Street. Initially, skaters were heading out onto the ice for 30 minutes stretches. The lines got so long, organizers cut the skating time down to 20 minutes. Nevertheless, on account of the long wait, Reagan Goddard, 12, had to pass on her chance to head out onto the “glice.”
She’ll have plenty of chances to take her turn on the skating rink. The rink will be open daily now to the end of the month. There is already some talk among the Friends group of making the rink permanent. On opening day, cans of donated food could be substituted for the price of admission and a large pile of such items was building up next to the rink.
On a portable stage near the ice rink, local ophthalmologist Mike Raies and his band the Blonde Habits provided the soundtrack for much of the evening. (A previous article referred to the name of the band as “The Bad Habits,” the name of a former band member’s of the current band performed with previously.)
Across Market Street from the skating rink, in what many know as the one-time Candyland building, the Friends of Portsmouth set up a fanciful gift shop. Santa’s workshop sits next door, with the head elf available for pictures, of course. Both the gift shop and the workshop were packed wall-to-wall with visitors.
“I’ve lived in Portsmouth my whole life,” noted Jeanette Harrison inside the gift shop as she picked out a couple of Christmas ornaments and a holiday mug. “I haven’t seen this many people downtown this time of year in a long time.” Harrison said the scene reminded her of her childhood when people would routinely visit downtown during the holidays to peruse the various shops and what was then a good-sized department store.
Outside the gift shop and workshop, Jack Coon of Kenna, W. Va., had brought his Percheron horses and a couple of carriages to offer rides around downtown Portsmouth and over to the flood wall murals throughout the evening. There also was a long line for the carriage rides. Coon said he will be back next weekend.
Other highlights of Winterfest include a nativity scene with live animals, lots of lights pretty much everywhere around Boneyfiddle and lots and lots of family picture opportunities. The previously mentioned Vendor Village featured one stand selling chestnuts and hot chocolate, another with various kinds of chocolate and goodies and still another entitled “Gypsy Chic,” among plenty of others.
Going forward, one highlight of Winterfest will have to be an attempt to break the world’s record for the largest number of people caroling, which will take place 7 p.m. Dec. 15. The current record is 1,822 set in 2013. Would be participants are asked to go to Eventbrite.com and obtain a free ticket for the event. You can also obtain tickets through the Friends of Portsmouth Facebook page. Organizers have said the tickets are a way of keeping track of the number of carolers.
For full details on upcoming and continuing events, check the Friends of Portsmouth/Winterfest Facebook page, www.friendsofportsmouth.com/winterfest.