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.
Members of Williamsport Area High School’s freshman class decorate their Christmas tree during the Festival of Trees in Pine Square at the Brickyard on Saturday morning. The Williamsport Business Association, the City of Williamsport Recreation Department and the Brickyard Restaurant teamed up to sponsor the event. Students from all schools in the city are decorating each tree as part of a contest for the best tree. The public may vote for their favorite tree by dropping a dollar into the voting canisters at the entrance to the Brickyard Restaurant until 6 p.m. Saturday.
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.
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.;
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.
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
Clear Channel Media and Entertainment
Van Campen Motors Pace Car
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.
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.
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
Sweet Frog Restaurant
Candy Lane Express Locomotive, balloon
Sean Moore, a singer
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.
State Rep. Rick Mirabito
Candy Cane, balloon
Williamsport Parking Authority
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
Santa's Magical Bag, balloon
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
Williamsport Area High School Cheerleaders
Williamsport Area High School Marching Band
Santa Sleigh, banner
Santa and Mrs. Claus
Christmas Wreath, balloon