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November 28. 2012 9:46PM

Exeter is ready to get festive

EXETER - For Kimberly Davis, this will be a Christmas to remember.

The California native who moved to Exeter in June has never lived in a place where it snows.

She also never experienced the excitement of decorating a tree in Exeter's Festival of Trees until Wednesday when she helped her boss, Inn by the Bandstand owner Susan Henderson, transform an evergreen into a sweet-themed "Candy is Dandy" tree.

"This is going to be the best Christmas," she said with a smile as decorators lugging boxes of lights and ornaments of all kinds arrived at the Exeter Town Hall to prepare for the Festival of Trees.

The charity event will be held today as part of Exeter's 25th annual Holiday Open House - the official kickoff to the holiday season in downtown Exeter.

The Festival of Trees features more than 50 trees donated and decorated by various organizations and then sold at a silent auction, with all proceeds benefitting the Exeter Area Chamber of Commerce's Chamber Children's Fund, which assists families with children in need of warm clothing.

The Festival of Trees and silent auction will be held from 11 a.m. to 8 p.m. in the Town Hall. Other events at today's Holiday Open House include the lighting of nearly 12,000 Christmas lights downtown and the arrival of Santa Claus at the bandstand at 5 p.m.; horse-drawn hay wagon rides from 5 to 7:45 p.m.; and a gingerbread house contest and display at the Congregational Church from 11 a.m. to 8 p.m.

The Holiday Open House is hosted by the Exeter Area Chamber of Commerce Portsmouth Avenue and the downtown area will be packed again on Saturday when the town holds its 55th annual Exeter Holiday Parade beginning at 5:30 p.m. The parade will travel down Portsmouth Avenue into downtown Exeter, passing the bandstand at the intersection of Water and Front streets.

Many businesses and organizations have spent years donating their time and money to decorate trees for the Festival of Trees.

Dorine Caswell of 11 Water Street, a popular downtown restaurant, said the same people have bid on her trees for the past few years and have e-mailed her photos of the trees after they get them home. It's no wonder they bid since Caswell includes $150 in gift certificates to her restaurant on the tree.

Christina Hardy of New Hampshire Martial Arts Academy in Exeter said planning decorations for the trees can be tricky because the decorators never know how many decorations to bring.

"I didn't know what size my tree was going to be until I got here," she said, "but I seem to have enough so far."

Henderson said she usually buys ornaments at the end of the holiday season to be used on the tree she decorates for the Festival of Trees the next year.

"This is my favorite thing to do," she said.

As decorators worked inside the Town Hall on Wednesday, other volunteers were outside stringing lighted garland across Water Street.

Work began two weeks ago when volunteers began assembling the garland. Decorating downtown is a big job that takes an estimated 30 to 40 volunteers who donate hundreds of hours, said Michael Schidlovsky, chamber president.

"Exeter is so picturesque, like a Currier and Ives scene. Tradition and a sense of community is prevalent. I am 56 years old but on Holiday Open House evening, I feel like I am 7. How can you beat that?" he said.

Beth Dupell of ECM Design in Exeter has been volunteering with the lighting preparations for 10 years.

"This is Thanksgiving and Christmas for us. It's our family tradition," she said.

jschreiber@newstote.com


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