📷 Photo by Helen Boyle
Reporting by Helen Boyle
SOUTHBRIDGE – Downtown has been set up with the usual festive holiday decorations, which you can see all along Main Street. The decorations have a distinct character with large Christmas characters painted onto sturdy wood. There are plenty of them too, thanks to a hard-working group of volunteers who launch the holiday season in Southbridge with the annual display. Public holiday decorations for the town haven’t always been what they are now, though. The decorations have been created and distributed by volunteer “elves” for about a decade by Southbridge Holiday Visions, a group of citizens of Southbridge who provide the service free of charge to the town.
The idea for the annual project began with conversations that Denise Clemence and Monique Manna had with Cathy Nikolla. Nikolla is the daughter or the late Rudy DiGregorio. DiGregorio had owned a floral shop on Worcester street. DiGregorio’s floral shop served local residents but also did business with larger clients such as Howard Johnson’s and The Boston Pops, due to DiGregorio’s keen artistic sense.
Clemence and Manna wanted to spread some Christmas spirit around town and Nikolla knew where to find just the thing. Nikolla invited the other two women to 76 Mill Street, where they found a warehouse storage space full of the elves, reindeer and other festive holiday characters you see around town before Christmas. The characters were skillfully painted on large, sturdy wood backgrounds. They were the work of Nikolla’s father, Rudy DiGregorio. The decorations had been stored for many years in the warehouse.
Clemence asked if they could borrow some of the painted characters to display in some windows of vacant storefronts. DiGregorio responded with a resounding “yes.” Clemence also thought that a tree lighting would be a good addition to the Southbridge holiday season. She approached Marshall Morse about a suitable tree and his family donated one.
With the help of former Southbridge Police Chief Charette and a handful of volunteers, they made plenty of progress and a cheerful display for the town. By the spring of the next year, Rudy DiGregorio had created more trees with candy canes and was excited to show them to Clemence. So due to this creative output, DiGregorio’s spirit is present in Southbridge every holiday season.
Clemence and volunteers with the project officially named the group “Southbridge Holiday Visions.” They coordinate the display each year with plenty of hard work in the warehouse storage followed by distribution days when anyone is welcome to join them in placing DiGregorio’s festive characters. Volunteers for the effort are called “holiday elves.”
In recent years, the Southbridge holiday decorations have arrived throughout town as early as the beginning of November. While some people are not in favor of seeing the holiday decorations so early, it is most efficient to put them up at this time because as Thanksgiving grows closer, the volunteer “elves” are busier and less available as they work on a variety of other holiday projects and obligations.
Much of the display has been added or updated over the years. Volunteers work hard at the warehouse in late October to organize, dust off or touch up the paint on the decorations. With people who care about this little town of Southbridge, it will continue to grow and evolve. The 2018 Christmas tree is courtesy of Southbridge Credit Union. It was planted on the town common by Benoit Landscaping and Lenny LaPorte ran the electrical components for the tree. The parade is also an addition to the activities of Southbridge Holiday Visions. This year, the parade and tree lighting with Santa was well attended by the community Saturday, Nov. 24.
Each year, volunteer opportunities for “elves” are announced in October by the Southbridge Holiday Visions group. For more information, you can contact SouthbridgeHolidayVisions@yahoo.com or visit the group’s Facebook page.
All photos below are by Helen Boyle, The Citizen Chronicle Photographer: