By Michael P. Walsh
Special to the Voice
Santa and Mrs. Claus joined Mayor Nancy R. Rossi and a group of essential workers who helped West Haven through the coronavirus pandemic to light the Christmas tree on the Green at the city’s holiday kickoff Nov. 27.
After arriving in the West Haven Fire Department’s 1935 Mack pump firetruck, Santa and Mrs. Claus were escorted to a portable stage on the Main Street side of the Green by the West Haven High School cheerleading team to the sound of applause and shouts of glee from an estimated 400 merrymakers who braved the bitter cold.
Before the lighting of the tree, which is flanked by two smaller evergreen trees adorned with fluorescent-colored lights, Louis P. Esposito Jr., Rossi’s executive assistant, thanked and praised the mayor’s special guests — nurses, first responders and other front-line workers from West Haven — as the all-ages crowd clapped and cheered.
Rossi was also accompanied onstage by her grandson, Arthur Rossi, 11, and Esposito, the master of ceremonies.
Rossi then thanked people for coming and led them in a countdown to set the tree — and the Green — aglow.
The essential workers recognized just offstage were Health Director Maureen B. Lillis, vaccination clinic registered nurses Mary Kate Florian and Elaine Holman, Emergency Reporting System dispatchers Rich Standish and Katy Ronan Vecellio, Board of Education paraprofessional Kim Kenny, West Haven Fire Department Chief James P. O’Brien, Department of Public Works electrician Andy Pacelli, Emergency Management Director Joseph Soto and Police Chief Joseph S. Perno.
The four-hour holiday festival opened with the national anthem sung by Grace Kelly Nowak and followed with Christmas favorites performed by instructors, students and a choir from The Rock House School of Music on a flatbed truck opposite the stage. The flatbed was provided by Bruneau’s Garage of West Haven.
The annual event was presented by the city, the First Congregational Church of West Haven and West Haven United, an organization aimed at bringing the city’s volunteer groups together.
Although last year’s public tree lighting was postponed because of COVID-19, Rossi surprised residents with a virtual lighting shortly after the announcement.
This year’s event featured costumed Christmas characters and Victorian-clad carolers entertaining families around the Green.
The Yuletide festivities also included four craft stations on the Green, where children made marshmallow snowman ornaments, decorated wooden ornaments, wrote letters to Santa, and made cards for U.S. troops overseas and those at the West Haven VA Medical Center.
Immediately after the lighting, The RumRunners performed holiday classics on the main stage.
Huge electric snowflakes decorated The John C. Ireland Bandstand, Victorian streetlamps bedecked with angels blowing on trumpets illuminated the walkways, and decorated wooden snowmen bordered sections of the 5.3-acre Green.
Before their long sleigh ride back to the North Pole, Santa and Mrs. Claus greeted children and posed for snapshots.
Just steps from Santa’s workshop, boys and girls dropped off wish lists at St. Nick’s official U.S. Postal Service mailbox.
Along with hayrides, kids rode in a vintage firetruck from the West Shore Fire Department. They also rode on the Roaming Railroad, a trackless train sponsored by West Haven United.
People brought nonperishable items for the West Haven Emergency Assistance Task Force, which provides food for residents in need.
Volunteers from the First Congregational Church sold burgers, hot dogs, cookies and decorative chocolate bars, and volunteers from West Haven United sold popcorn, hot chocolate and soda.
Watch the tree lighting on West Haven YouTube at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NaiNIHT2S_c.