Festival breathes life into the 'dead of winter'

Winter Lights cheers residents and visitors alike with ice skating, comfort food, and community coziness

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  • Inside the warming hut, in the back row: Glenn Heller, Scott Sheldon, Mike Zimmerman, and Bradlee Sheldon (wearing a mask.) Front : Daisy Oliva Heller, Abbey Zimmerman, and Mike Carson. (Photo by Anya Tikka)

  • Daisy Oliva Heller and Abbey Zimmerman (Photo by Anya Tikka)

  • In front of the ice rink in progress are: Bradlee and dad Scott Sheldon, Mike Zimmerman and Mike Carson, with Abbey Zimmerman in front (Photo by Anya Tikka)

  • An ice sculpture takes shape around a light structure. From left: Mike Carson, Mike Zimmerman, Bradlee, and dad Scott Sheldon. Abbey Zimmerman is in front. (Photo by Anya Tikka)

Editor's note, Jan. 19: The Winter Lights Festival has been postponed from the original dates given below because there won't be ice this weekend. The festival has been rescheduled for next weekend.

By Anya Tikka

— After the holidays, when the winter blues set in, and people huddle indoors, enterprising members of the community do what Milford does best — hold a festival.

It's the Winter Lights Festival, from Friday, Jan. 20, through Sunday, Jan. 22, and it gets everyone outdoors. It offers an ice show at the Ann Street Park rink, which stays open as long as the weather permits so that everyone may take a turn.

The festival’s main show starts at 2 p.m. on Saturday, with the Zumba dancers' “Ice Pops,” followed by the main feature, “Merlin Awakens.” Public skating is available starting at 3:15 p.m., and by torch light from 5:15 to 9 p.m. Sunday's show follows the same schedule.

Donated skates are available at the warming hut for free us on a first-come, first-served basis.

Inside the kerosene-heated warming hut recently, amid skates hanging from the walls, volunteers Scott Sheldon and son Bradlee, Mike Zimmerman and nine-year-old daughter Abbey, and organizer Mike Carson talked about logistics.

“These were all donated by community members,” Carson explained, pointing to the skates. “Everything is free.”

Carson has experience working in theater and corporate functions. The ice shows he brings to Milford, described at frozenfeettheater.org, represent a new art form integrating puppets and masks, myths and legends. He says he wants to tell “socially relevant stories on ice through the fluid strength and agility of ice dancers and the magical realism of giant puppets.”

Carson said the whole idea behind the Winter Lights Festival is to bring people together — Milford residents and visitors alike — in the dead of the winter.

A community effortSheldon, representing the Recreation Committee, said a large group of volunteers bring the festival to fruition each year. Milford Borough gives an annual small grant to the festival, he said, but most of it is paid for through donations.

Sheldon's job is to supervise the setting of the rink ice and the ice sculpture taking shape atop the light structure next to it, for maximum effect.

“The lights shine through when finished,” he explained.

Residents Glenn Heller and six-year-old daughter Daisy Oliva knocked on the door while the meeting was in progress, and were promptly invited in. They weren’t sure if the ice was ready, but they were eager to use it. Daisy skates every winter, and so does Abbey, who said she and many of her friends learned to skate in the rink.

The festival also includes an annual mac 'n' cheese and chili contest hosted by the Dimmick Inn at Broad and West Harford Streets. This year it's being held on Saturday from 11 p.m. to 2 p.m. Festival-goers can sample each dish and vote their favorites, for a $5 donation. Winners will be announced at the skating rink.

The weekend kicks off on Friday with a free family movie downstairs at the Columns Museum, at 608 Broad Street. Guests will enjoy free hot chocolate and cookies. Disney's "Snow Dogs" starts at 7 p.m.

Saturday starts with a 10:30 a.m. children’s theater presentation in the Pike County Library’s community room, with a performance of "A Chinese Tale: Stories of the Monkey King and Chinese Calligraphy."

The final event is from 3:30 until 4:30 p.m. on Sunday at the Chinese Cultural Center, 310 West Harford St., where host Erik Oliva will offer family entertainment.

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