Published November 21, 2018


NORTH READING —The turnout for Sunday’s Light Up Main Street for Christmas festival was beyond phenomenal, which thrilled the Main Street businesses that organized this event, which they plan to hold annually.

“I’m so happy right now. I can’t stop smiling,” beamed one of the organizers, Al Pereira, even after he was beaten fair and square in the adult apple pie eating contest. Yes, there were 10 contestants over age 21, including two women, who were willing to attempt to eat an entire apple pie with their hands tied behind their back. Another 10 youngsters eagerly lined up and planted their faces into half an apple pie.

Pereira first proposed the event to several of his fellow Main Street business owners just few months ago and it took off like wildfire. The original intent of the group was to light up Main Street with a goal of knitting together the town’s main business corridor with strings of light in an effort to encourage residents and commuters to shop locally and support the businesses that in turn support the community’s fund raising efforts year round. A nighttime trip up and down Main Street shows that the initiative has worked a many more businesses than usual have chosen to decorated their buildings and storefronts.

COUNTDOWN TO the big event. Meredith Casey, founder of the Mighty Meredith Project (center) was invited join Santa and Mrs. Claus as the special guest of honor to flip the switch at the Light Up Main Street for Christmas festival. The first-ever event, attended by well over 500 people, was held at Kitty’s and sponsored by the Main Street business community. (Maureen Doherty Photo)

Conservative estimates pegged the number of attendees at the two-hour event held in Kitty’s parking lot at 500, but others believe it was much higher.

Orazio Guevara Sr., proprietor of Just Draw It, and his crew designed and built a sleigh in one day which they attached to the frame of a flatbed trailer that was pulled by a pickup truck. Santa’s sleigh accommodated 20 people and they gave at least 20 rides around the parking lot with it filled each time.

Festival goers went through five gallons of hot apple cider and equal amounts of coffee and hot chocolate. The popcorn popper was busy throughout the afternoon, hundreds of children had their photo take with Santa in the mirror me booth, over 70 youngsters wrote letters to Santa and an equal number had their faces painted. All of the activities were provided by the businesses free of charge.

Keeping the crowd pumped was local DJ Phil Carbone of Time of Your Life DJ Service. Christmas carolers from Aldersgate Church and Ipswich River Community Chorus also joined in the fun.

The crowd was very enthusiastic in cheering on both the children and adults in the Ugly Christmas Sweater Contests too. Winners were judged by crowd appeal. The children’s contest winner was Riley McDaniel, 13, and the runner up was David Poirier. The adult winner was Deb Birkmaier and the runner up was David Bancroft.

Poirier, whose prize was a stuffed teddy bear, happily donated it to Meredith Casey, founder of the nonprofit Mighty Meredith Project. Casey is collecting toys, gift cards and personal care items for her second annual #fillthebox event to benefit both Floating Hospital for Children at Tufts Medical Center and Boston Children’s Hospital as part of her kindness campaign to give back to hospitalized children as well as those receiving outpatient care.

Casey was selected by the committee as the honored guest to flip the switch with Santa and Mrs. Claus due to her generosity in paying it forward even in the face of her own chronic illness that started with a concussion. The 2018 #fillthebox Wish List can be found at