Before the first Thanksgiving meals are served, Williamsport hosts Home for the Holidays Weekend, a three-day event that brings in the spirit of the season with entertainment, merriment, cheer and, of course, a meet-and-greet with Santa and Mrs. Claus.

The festivities begin at 5:30 p.m. Friday, with Mayor Gabriel J. Campana’s tree-lighting ceremony at the corner of West Fourth and Hepburn streets. The evergreen in place was donated by a Newberry resident.

“We’ve planned (events) for weeks, with hours and hours put in by volunteers and city employees,” said Justin Simpson, city recreation director.

Originally, the activities were spread out and covered days in December, but the cold temperatures led to lower attendance and it was decided to hold the weekend of events, according to Milissa Augustine, chairwoman of the committee that organizes the Home for the Holidays Weekend.

“We felt if we cultivated an entire weekend, we could rejuvenate the event, and we have,” she said.

The 64th annual Billtown Christmas Parade kicks off at 6 p.m. Friday, forming at Elmira and West Third streets.

It was called the Williamsport Holiday Parade about 5 1/2 years ago, Campana said.

“When I was elected, I asked the committee to change the name,” he said. The parade changed names in December 2008.

As part of the parade, Paul Boiardi, nephew of the late Hector Boiardi, better known as Chef Boyardee, the pasta and tomato sauce food magnate, will be the parade grand marshal.

The other flavor the parade has is on the following day, Victorian Christmas, which has a specialized Italian theme, Campana said.

The parade follows a route east down West Third Street, north on Pine Street for a block, west on West Fourth Street and ending at Elmira Street.

After the parade, Santa and Mrs. Claus will be available for photographs with the children at the Santa House and Santa’s Village, with train rides on the Campy Express. Throughout the municipal parking lot will be food vendors.

The following morning, Breakfast with Santa and Mrs. Claus begins at 11 a.m. at the Genetti Hotel, 200 W. Fourth St.

Santa’s House will be open every Saturday afterward from 11 a.m. until 2 p.m. Nov. 30 is his first visitation. He also will be available from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. on Dec. 7, 14 and 21.

For those seeking artwork, vendors and crafts, the Home for the Holidays Market is open on Pine and West Fourth streets from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Saturday.

A free holiday film will be shown at the Digiplex Cinema Center, 300 W. Fourth St., noon Saturday. The film is “A Miracle in Spanish Harlem,” according to Les Barnhart, theater managing director.

Doors open at 11 a.m. and the film tickets are available on a first-come, first-served basis.

Victorian Christmas, sponsored by Preservation Williamsport, takes place from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Saturday throughout the downtown Historic District.

For this season, Preservation Williamsport is telling the community, “Buon Natale!,” as they prepared for their 15th annual Victorian Christmas celebration. Buon Natale means “Merry Christmas” in Italian.

Tours of the historic mansions, homes, churches and museums will be given, said Nan Young, Preservation Williamsport chairwoman.

A Festival of Trees, including 10 trees decorated by school students on display at Pine Square outside the Brickyard Restaurant, will be judged during a ceremony at 6 p.m. Saturday.

The annual Festival of Lights takes place from 5:30 to 8 p.m. Sunday. It includes the turning on of hundreds of colored light bulbs that have been affixed to trees at Brandon Park and a string of entertainment options.

The event kicks off with the annual holiday writing contest winners, featuring compositions from school students; the park lighting ceremony with Campana throwing the switch and illuminating the park and entertainment and activities such as free horse-drawn wagon rides, presented by the Brandon Park Commission; dance performances by Milissa Augustine Dance Academy and the Pennsylvania College of Technology Dance Team; Christmas vocals featuring Matthew Milbrand; meet and greets with Disney princesses and Dr. Seuss’s The Grinch, all making appearances.

Also part of the festivities will be a traditional greeting and visitation with Santa and Mrs. Claus and an ice sculpture demonstration and plenty of hot and cold refreshments.

Eric White will serve as master of ceremonies.

City Streets and Parks Department employee John Markley said the department has worked hard to prepare the park’s trees and staging for the celebration that is focused at the Dr. Kenneth Cooper stage at the bandshell.

The lights will be on throughout the holiday season leading up to Christmas, according to Campana.

A musical concert concludes the weekend of festivities with a Williamsport Symphony Orchestra Billtown Brass performance at 7 p.m. at the Community Arts Center.

Downtown donations

Several locations are available throughout downtown where donations of toys, food and clothing may be given.

On Friday night, during the festivities at the Santa House, a Toys for Tots drop-off box is open from 5 to 8 p.m.

On Saturday, there will be a drop-off location for food items at the Home for the Holidays Market on Pine and West Fourth streets.

On Sunday, at the Brandon Park Festival of Lights, a drop-off is available to accept blankets, coats, scarfs, gloves and hats.

Three downtown business will continue the collection through the Christmas season, with a deadline and closing date of Dec. 7.

The locations are at:

City Hall, 245 W. Fourth St.;

  • Le Chocolat, 420 Pine St.; and

Gustonian Gifts, Fourth and Pine streets.

Donations as part of this city Charitable Giving Campaign are to be turned over to the American Rescue Workers, Augustine said.

Parade participants

Division 1

Billtown Christmas Parade banner handlers Allie McCann and Elizabeth Lundy.

Williamsport Bureau of Police and the Williamsport Detachment of the Marine Corps League and Color Guard

Campana and family

Police Chief Gregory A. Foresman and Fire Chief C. Dean Heinbach

Boiardi and Honorary Parade Ambassador Tony DiSalvo

Toys for Tots by the Marine Corps League.

City Fire Car, Engine One and Tower One.

Williamsport Trackless Railroad

Sesame Street characters

Blue Antique Christmas Ornament, balloon

City Council and Lycoming County Commissioners on the Peter Herdic Trolley.

Snowflakes the Snowman, balloon

Williamsport Sun-Gazette

Clear Channel Media and Entertainment

Division 2

Van Campen Motors Pace Car

Equipment Depot

World of Little League: Peter J. McGovern Museum and Official Store, with Dugout and museum coordinator Janice Ogurcak.

The Montoursville Area High School Warrior Band

Eastern Lycoming Branch of the YMCA.

Otto Bookstore

Happy the Loveable Lion, balloon

St. Luke Lutheran Church Float

Lycoming County SPCA

Dr. Seuss characters

Suzanne Fedele, singing her songs, and riding in a 1932 Chevrolet Cabriolet.

Division 3

Van Campen Motors

Northern Tier Labor Council.

The North Central Chapter of the American Red Cross Disaster Relief Vehicle

Williamsport Waves Swim Team Float

Loyalsock Township High School Marching Lancers

Selinsgrove Red Robin car.

Geisinger Health Plan

Cell Block

Sweet Frog Restaurant

Candy Lane Express Locomotive, balloon

Sean Moore, a singer

Division 4

Van Campen Motors

Williamsport Crosscutters, Gabe Sinicropi and Boomer

Warrior Run High School Marching Band

40 et 8 & SOL Club

The Cinderella Carriage

Milissa Augustine Dance Academy

Old Lycoming Township Fire Co.

Repasz Band

State Rep. Rick Mirabito

Candy Cane, balloon

Williamsport Parking Authority

Division 5

Van Campen Motors

Philips Fancy Footwork

Hershey Park characters

Nick Biddle, singer

Dino the Cheerful Dinosaur

Backyard Broadcasting vehicle

Pine Street United Methodist Church, float

Lycoming County Pomona Grange 28

Hughesville High School Marching Band

Whistle Stop Train

Preservation Williamsport

Santa’s Magical Bag, balloon

Division 6

Van Campen Motors

Callie Hall Fitness

Williamsport Civic Ballet

James V. Brown Library

Frank Fedele, singer

Resounding Cymbals Theatre Group

Tack Room Specialties/Old Farm Memories

Bayada Pediatrics

Williamsport Area High School Cheerleaders

Williamsport Area High School Marching Band

Santa Sleigh, banner

Santa and Mrs. Claus

Christmas Wreath, balloon