LACONIA — This evening, the Community Center will become another world, filled with the symbols and enlivened by the spirit of Christmas, when for the 40th year the Christmas Village opens its doors to young and old.
Begun in 1975 by Dick Tappley, then director of Parks and Recreation, who followed the example set by his father in Bristol, the tradition has been sustained ever since by the Bolduc brothers — Armand and Ernie — and their friend Bob Hamel, who each year have led the team of volunteers, including some 60 to 70 elves, that constructs the village and provides its hospitality.
It's a lot work," Hamel said. "But, it's all worth when you see those kids come through the curtain and their faces light up."
He estimates that some 6,000 man hours are required to set up and take down the village. In addition, decorating and stocking the village costs about $8,000 a year, a significant share of which is born by a number of anonymous donors as well as a contribution from the Children's Auction.
As children gather to wait their turn to enter the village, they are entertained with face painting, games, crafts, movies and even "Santa's Jail" under the watchful eyes longtime volunteer Sharon Cavanaugh and a band of sprightly elves.
Every child leaves laden with an ornament, turned from wood rescued from the Allen-Rogers factory, a Christmas gift, and personal letter from Santa, bearing the postmark "Christmas Village, Laconia N.H. 03246-1/2. Plus, gallons of pink lemonade and 600 dozen cookies are served at "Santa's Sidewalk Cafe."
Hamel estimated that some 2,500 children visit the Christmas Village each year.
"If you count the parents and senior citizens, nearly a quarter of a million people have passed through the village in the last 40 years," he said.
The Christmas Village will be open to the public Thursday, Dec. 3, and Friday, Dec. 4, from 6 until 8 p.m.; and on Saturday, Dec. 5, and Sunday Dec. 6, from 2 until 5 p.m. The village will be open to senior citizens on Saturday between 10 a.m. and noon, and to those with disabilities on Sunday between 10 a.m. and noon.
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