It has always been a major effort to set up the more than half-million lights that comprise Hubbard Park's famed holiday display. City crews start the process during the second week in October, in order to be finished by the Tuesday before Thanksgiving – the official lighting date.
But tomorrow night, when the lights go on, Parks Department Director Mark Zebora says it will be, "The Miracle on West Main Street."
The October 29 nor'easter that took down branches, trees and power lines throughout the city caused significant damage to Hubbard Park's trees and electrical equipment and also the initial work on the displays that crews had already completed.
"We’ve had so many electrical problems with trees coming down," Zebora said. "We were in tough shape."
So the Parks Department – which along with Public Works and Utilities crews spent every daylight hour the first week and a half after the storm clearing streets of trees and debris so Connecticut Light & Power could restore electricity to the city – has been working sunup to sundown and weekends preparing the park for the holiday light show while still picking up residential storm debris and dealing with other storm-related issues.
"We're on day 24," Zebora said, of storm cleanup. On Monday afternoon, crews were still cutting down hanging branches for the safety of visitors as well as working out lingering electrical issues.
Because of the issues, there will be fewer lights twinkling than in years past, according to Zebora.
Some of the usual displays will likely not be on, and some will be moved, Zebora said. On Monday afternoon, he said the crew was still trying to find a spot for the turtle family, bear and fox. He said thought they could resolve issues with lights near the playscape and also the eastern part of the park before Tuesday night, but that some of the west side of the park will likely remain dark.
"We had to make some tough choices," Zebora said, saying that the team is working hardest to light up displays in the core part of the park. "We presume people turn to the right, to see the water, the swans and all that. It won't be totally noticable to everyone – (but it will) to me and the staff."
Meriden's newly reelected Mayor Michael Rohde said the display may indeed be a bit smaller, but that it's "Still be a scene not to be missed." Rohde will preside over the 6 p.m. lighting ceremony Tuesday, which includes refreshments and a countdown with the crowd before they pull the switch that lights the park. The event will be held near the tennis courts.
He said all the work the city devotes to the display is important.
"It is a tradition we've had for many years - it's part of our image and reputation, like the Daffodil Festival," Rohde said.
For Zebora, who lit the first displays in the park in 1988, it's important to ensure the lights go on this year.
"That’s a quarter of a million people who see it," Zebora said, basing the estimate on counters the city has put in the road during previous festivals. "That’s huge. We've got to make sure the show goes on."
The display in Hubbard Park will be lit from Nov. 22 to January 6. Admission to the park is free.