The Middle Street Walk is no walk in the park for its organizers.
But for Gloria Parsons, who just this year "took over the helm" from Middle Street Walk founder and chairman Jan Bell, the transition has gone remarkably smoothly as Saturday's event draws near.
Now in its 14th year, one of Gloucester's premier celebrations of the holiday season is itself a seasoned annual fete with a regular roster of established events that, says Parson, "opens the historical heart of the city to its people."
Parsons credits Bell with having the vision to see Middle Street's value as a venue for a winter walk that has, over the years, spilled over into City Hall, Cape Ann Museum, Sawyer Free Library and down on to Main Street, revving up thousands of revellers for the holidays with a day-long program jam-packed with events.
This year's schedule has managed to jam a little more of everything for everyone into a program that starts at 9 a.m. Saturday with the seARTS Wearable Arts Show Benefit in the library, and closes at 5 p.m. with the annual lighting of the Lobster Trap Tree at Police Station Plaza, attended by none other than Santa Claus himself. That will be followed by the "Winner Takes All" grand raffle drawing of this year's $1,100 shopping spree.
In between, it's open door at virtually every door on Middle Street.
Highlights of outdoor activities include the "singing trolley," which, starting at 11:30 a.m., will be making its rounds for two hours, with "songbirds" belting out a bevy of seasonal sing-along songs, with stops to explain the history and architecture.
At 12:30 p.m., Gloucesterites can welcome back the newly completed Temple Ahavat Achim and get launched on a learning curve of the ancient observance of shabbat, while at Trinity Church, the bell ringers are ringing in the season, and over at the newly renovated and restored Sargent House (circa 1782) visitors are discovering its rich heritage of culture, art and architecture in tours from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.
New this year and kicking off City Hall's Kyrouz Auditorium programs at 11 a.m. will be a brief balletic preview of "The LobstahCrackah" — a homespun spoof of "The Nutcracker" — re-imagined and staged by Henry Allen, founder and director of Henry Allen's TheaterWorks, which makes its home at The Annie, 1 Washington St..
Choreographed by local dancer Sarah Fader to Tchaikovsky's original score, "The LobstahCrackah" is in every other way a "Cape Ann original," says Allen, who collaborated with the Gloucester Community Arts Charter School in staging the theater piece.
"We've got dancing oysters, starfish, scrod, waltzing whales, and a cast of amateurs ages 5 to 80," says Allen, who views "The LobstahCrackah," which opens Dec. 15, as a "Christmas Card to Cape Ann."
Once the oysters, scrod, starfish and whales have danced and waltzed off-stage, the gingerbread houses take center stage. Dozens of them are expected to arrive in Kyrouz Auditorium this year, says decorating committee member Kathy Slifer, where they'll be on display awaiting final judgment and announcement of this year's winners.
The annual gingerbread house contest is one of the Middle Street Walk's biggest attractions, drawing entries from all over Cape Ann. The contest closes at 3 p.m. and coveted blue ribbons will be awarded to winners based on degree of difficulty and creativity, neatness, originality, uses of edible confections and decorations.
Creativity and originality also figure high on the list of the decorating committee, says Slifer, who spent this past Monday with fellow committee members decking the doors of Middle Street with boughs of holly, garlands and wreaths under the direction of Bell, who remains active in planning the day's events.
The wreaths are not only hand-made, but hand-foraged by Slifer and fellow decorating committee members who comb Bob and Eileen Matz's camping site in West Gloucester for greens, pine cones and winter berries.
"This year," says Slifer, "we got lucky with the mild weather. Usually we're out there freezing."
Weather shouldn't, adds Slifer, make a difference in this year's Middle Street attendance, given the number of events and programs taking place inside.
Bell, meanwhile, says that this year, there's a new incentive for weathering the weather.
Following the lighting of the Lobster Trap Tree and the shopping spree drawing, there'll be "a big surprise."
She won't give away any hints, though, unless you count this one: "It's something well worth freezing your tootsies for."
Joann Mackenzie can be reached at 978-283-7000 x3457, or at email@example.com.
Middle Street Walk schedule
Saturday starting at 10 a.m., along Middle Street, Dale Avenue, and at City Hall, featuring these events, activities and concerts:
9 a.m. to 6 p.m. — Saunders House, Middle St. entrance of Sawyer Free Library, SeARTS Wearable Arts Show and fund-raiser to support library. Tickets at Saunders House and Library.
10 a.m. to 3 p.m. — City Hall auditorium, 9 Dale Ave., crafts vendors, gingerbread house contest display (winner announced 11:30), Girl Scouts Troop 235 Bake sale and Cocoa, Schooner Adventure Ships Store, coffee and pastries, free children's crafts, Senior Center's neighborhood quilts display, Whale Center of New England's mini store and information, flu shot clinic, The Phyllis A. Marine Association store and information table.
10 a.m. to 2 p.m. — Cape Ann Museum, arts and crafts, decorating ornaments; Saunders House, Middle Street entrance of Sawyer Free Library, history of WPA Murals and Samuel Sawyer.
10 a.m. to 3 p.m. — Trinity Congregational Church, 70 Middle St., Cape Ann Thrift Shop, seasonal goods sale.
10 a.m. to 4 p.m. — Cape Ann Art Haven, 180B Main St., free events: help create a giant Cape Ann Ice sculpture, paint buoys for Lobster Trap Tree; Sargent House Museum, 49 Middle St., open house, holiday decorations, goodies, gifts
10 a.m. to 8 p.m. — Rocky Neck Art Colony, 130 Main St., annual winter exhibit
11 a.m. to 1 p.m. — Unitarian Universalist Church, 10 Church St., chowder lunch
11 a.m. to 2 p.m. — City Hall, 9 Dale Ave., Tours of the tower on the half hour, led by Maggie Rosa, Chair of City Hall Restoration Commission. Ring the bell for $100 donation.
Noon to 2 p.m. — Trolley rides with Santa's Songbirds and a Holiday Sing-along courtesy of CATA.
10 a.m. — Friend Room Sawyer Free Library, Deborah Costine, Gerwick Puppeteer, with her program A Woodland Cinderella; refreshments.
11 a.m. — Cape Ann Museum, tour of c.1804 Captain Elias Davis House decorated for the holidays by Gloucester Civic & Garden Council; City Hall auditorium, Henry Allen Theatre Works' Lobstah Crackah Ballet preview; Unitarian Universalist Church, 10 Church Street, church tour
Noon — Trinity Congregational Church, 70 Middle St., the Heavenly Bell Choir performs seasonal music.
12:30 p.m. — Temple Ahavat Achim, tour and learn about Shabbot
1 p.m. — City Hall auditorium, Gingerbread contest winner announced and Miss Tina's Dance School; Unitarian Universalist Church, tour; St. John's Episcopal Church, a children's holiday with choirs singing seasonal music
1:30 p.m. — Sawyer Free Library, Girls Next Door concert; Trinity Congregational Church, Louis Stella and friends concert
2 p.m. — Cape Ann Museum, tour of c.1804 Captain Elias Davis House decorated for the holidays by Gloucester Civic and Garden Council; Unitarian Universalist Church, Elementary and Middle School String Group, O'Maley Middle School Band and Gloucester High School Chorus
2:30 p.m. — City Hall auditorium, West Parish School student chorus
3 p.m. — Cape Ann Museum, book launch, 'On Opposite Tacks: When Artist John Sloan & Capt. Solomon Jacobs Crossed Wakes in Wartime Gloucester' by Chester Brigham.
5 p.m. — Annual Lobster Trap Tree Lighting at Police Station Plaza with a visit from Santa, followed by drawing of winner of $1,100 shopping spree and a brand new 'Big Surprise'
Note: The Cape Ann Big Band to benefit City Hall restoration is postponed until further notice.