LAKE PLACID - The Holiday Village Stroll is a relatively new event in this community, but organizers say it's quickly becoming a popular tradition among locals and visitors.
Now in its fifth year, the Stroll has grown in size, adding new events and catering to a wider audience. This year, like last, the event will coincide with the Festivus Faceoff, a Division I hockey match between Clarkson and St. Lawrence universities at the 1980 Herb Brooks Arena.
"It's a great weekend, and it's gotten so much busier," M.J. Lawrence, the Lake Placid Convention and Visitors Bureau's director of sales and marketing, told the News. "There's such great participation, and people receive it so well."
The tree lighting at Mid’s Park on Main Street in Lake Placid is a big part of the annual Village Stroll. The lighting, which includes Christmas carols performed by local school children, as seen above at a previous Stroll, takes place at 5 p.m., Saturday, Dec. 8.
Richard Rosentreter/Lake Placid News file photo
The Stroll kicks off at 5 p.m. Dec. 7 with an artists reception at the Northwoods Inn and continues through Dec. 9.
Lawrence was there when the Stroll was first envisioned. She said the idea was to bring more visitors into the community during a somewhat slow time of the year.
"It's that time of year when there's not a lot of business in the community, but the community is all ready for business," Lawrence said. "We're all decorated. The shops look great, the hotels, the motels - all the garland is up. But there's nobody really here to enjoy it. And we have all of these great restaurants and these really unique stores, and it's such a more pleasant atmosphere to shop and enjoy the pre-holidays than being in a mall. We were like, 'Why are our streets empty?'
"We were also thinking, 'Wouldn't it be great to put together an event that would bring people into the community, but also be an event the community itself could enjoy?'"
So Lawrence and other organizers set about putting together a program of activities that could be offered to people free of charge, all centered around Lake Placid's downtown shopping area and also incorporating music and arts.
"We've done a good job, for the most part, of sticking to that format," she said. "And each year, we've continued to add more and more events to enhance the weekend, and to make it more of something for everyone."
Lori Fitzgerald, director of marketing at High Peaks Resort and one of the Stroll's organizers, said the event is intended to connect old traditions, like the Yule log lighting, with new ones, like the Olympic medal craft workshop at the Olympic Museum.
The Yule log lighting was brought back last year after an absence of about 20 years. The tradition was started by the Lake Placid Club in the early 1900s, but it "fizzled out" by the 1980s, Fitzgerald said.
A December 1961 Enterprise article notes that the Yule log hunt was one of the Club's "most colorful events.
"Members and guests participate, wearing colorful capes and hoods whose design goes back to medieval times," the article says. "The Yule log hunters will be led by the 'Master of Merrie Disport,' whose garb is even more colorful than that of his followers."
The modern-day Yule log hunt involves an 8-foot log with a red ribbon tied around it. Fitzgerald said it will be hidden somewhere in the downtown area, and "whoever finds it gets to ride it to Mid's Park," where part of it is burned and the rest is saved for the following year's celebration.
After the log is burned and the Christmas tree is lit, Fitzgerald said those in attendance will drink wassail, a spiced cider that was also enjoyed during the Yule log ceremonies of old, according to Enterprise articles from the past.
New traditions incorporated into the Stroll will continue this year, including a skating party at the Olympic Center, story time at the Mirror Lake Inn, Santa's arrival on a fire truck at Mid's Park and a matinee screening of "The Polar Express" at the Palace Theatre.
New this year is the Olympic medal craft workshop at the Olympic Museum, where Fitzgerald said kids will be able to make "ornaments inspired by Olympic medals." There will be three sessions: 6 to 7 p.m. Dec. 7, 10 to 11 a.m. Dec. 8 and 10 to 11 a.m. Dec. 9.
This year's Stroll will also incorporate more arts activities and live music, and a map of the event has been expanded to include art galleries in Saranac Lake.
Fitzgerald said there will also be an ice sculpture in front of the Adirondack Trading Company on Main Street.
In its early years, the Stroll was geared toward families, and it still is, Fitzgerald said. But starting last year, organizers began tinkering with the schedule to attract younger adults. That meant including live music at local bars and nightclubs on the event schedule, as well as wine and food tastings.
Asked if that effort paid off last year, Fitzgerald said yes, but she added that the Stroll also got a big assist from something that wasn't part of organizers' plans: the Festivus Faceoff between the Clarkson and St. Lawrence men's ice hockey teams.
"It was sort of a perfect storm," she said. "We added live music and things targeting adults, and that game brings in a lot of adults with older kids, or just people coming up as adults. ... It allowed us to expose the Stroll to a new audience. And we're hoping that hockey game will stay on the same weekend in the future.
"We talked to (the state Olympic Regional Development Authority) this year, and we really expressed what the (game) does for the event. The addition of the Festivus Faceoff has brought a vibrancy that's made it that much better."
Lawrence said the business community has been pleased with the introduction of the Stroll. She said so far this year, the Convention and Visitors Bureau has booked more than 100 weekend packages for hotels and motels throughout the community.
"Those are a minimum of 200 additional room nights that wouldn't be in the community if it wasn't for the Holiday Village Stroll," Lawrence said. "And there's that many more people that are here that aren't on the Stroll package but have come for the weekend because there's something going on in Lake Placid, whether it's to shop, go to the wine tasting, the free gift wrapping or the other events we're offering."
"The objective is to create more activity in the village," Lake Placid Mayor Craig Randall said. "I will speak on behalf of the board here: We're delighted that they've enjoyed notable success. I hope it continues to grow."
Village Trustee Jason Leon said he's glad that the organizers have been able to get locals and visitors excited about the event.
"It's a perfect union of the two," he said.
Trustee Peter Holderied, whose family owns the Golden Arrow Lakeside Resort, said the Stroll has increased his hotel's occupancy rate for that weekend.
"It's great for the shopkeepers, too," he said.