Holidays in Hampton: Tree lighting and parade bring festive fun to downtown

A fun-filled holiday-themed weekend in downtown Hampton will kick off with a tree lighting on Friday, Dec. 6, at Marelli Square.

The tree lighting event runs from 6 to 8 p.m., with the lights flipped on around 7 p.m., and will feature music, a photo booth, hay rides and a surprise visit from Santa Claus.

Local businesses will be open during the event offering treats such as hot chocolate and popcorn.

“It’s definitely a fun night,” said Dean Merrill, the president of Experience Hampton, which collaborates with Hampton Parks and Recreation to put on the tree lighting.

Experience Hampton also hosts the annual Main Street Christmas parade on Saturday, Dec. 7.

The organization has been putting on the parade since 2010, a few years after the Hampton Chamber of Commerce put it on the back burner.

Experience Hampton was founded specifically by a group of business owners to host the parade every December.

“It’s bigger than the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade,” Merrill joked.

“It’s one of the largest [local] Christmas parades and a lot of people come out for it.”

The parade begins at 1 p.m., kicking off at the bridge in North Hampton and ending on Winnacunnet Road.

This year’s theme is “Main Street Christmas” focusing on the Hampton community.

There will be 10 marching bands.

Some are high school bands, such as Bedford, Winnacunnet and Salem, but there will be other local bands performing, such as the Boston Firemen’s Band, NH Pipes and Drums, NH Police Association Pipes and Drums, and the UNH Winter Guard.

As for floats, some featured are the Hampton Rotary Club, Miss Hampton Beach 2019, Seacoast Powersports, Great Bay Limousine, and The
Old Salt.

This year, the Grand Marshals of the parade will be the New Hampshire Seacoast Greenway, a local chapter of the East Coast Greenway.

They have been working on bringing the Rail Trail to the Seacoast, turning former railroad tracks into a network of state trails for hiking, biking and more.

“With the theme of Main Street Christmas, it seemed fitting to highlight the effort of the New Hampshire Seacoast Greenway, dedicated to making Hampton’s downtown corridor more pedestrian-friendly and accessible,” Nicholas Bridle, vice president of Experience Hampton, said in a press release.

Merrill said Experience Hampton begins planning for the parade in March and organizes a lot of fundraisers to raise money for it.

The biggest fundraiser is a golf tournament at the Pease Golf Course, where they raise money from sponsors, golfers, businesses and people in the Hampton area and host a golf raffle.

“All of the work needed to ensure a successful event is a lot of time and effort. We really couldn’t put on this event without the help of the volunteers and the support of the town,” said Merrill.

This year’s parade is dedicated to the memory of Nancy Waddell, who died earlier this year.

She was the Parade Committee Chair for Experience Hampton for many years.

“She was like ‘parade central,’ so we thought it would be a neat way to honor her,” said Merrill.

“Nancy connected all the dots and kept us on task. We thought dedicating this year’s parade in her memory would help keep us focused and hopefully put on an event that she would have been proud to take part in,” said Bridle.

Crowds for the parade are large; an estimated 20,000 people came out in 2018.

People start lining up for the parade anywhere between half an hour to an hour beforehand, and Merrill said they have recently added a few new components to that time before the parade starts.

“The downtown area will have the Hampton Academy choir and Winnacunnet High School chorus performing prior to the parade, to put you in the Christmas spirit,” he said.

Merrill hopes that everyone will have a fun day in town if they decide to attend the parade.

For him, the crowd size isn’t as big a deal as it is to see the positive reaction from children and families.

“As long as I make a little child happy that day and they get to meet Santa at the end, I think that’s more important to us [than how many people attend],” he said.

The weather isn’t a factor for this parade either, as they never have a makeup date and once put it on during a snowstorm.

“We’ve got all our ducks in a row and we’re excited to have a fun Saturday, rain or shine,” Merrill said.

The annual Christmas tree lighting will happen from 6 to 8 p.m. at Marelli’s Square Gazebo on Route 1 in Hampton on Friday, Dec. 6.

The Main Street Christmas parade will start at 1 p.m. on Saturday, Dec. 7, at the North Hampton bridge.

It will end at Winnacunnet Road, so there will be plenty of space along Lafayette Road throughout Hampton to find a perfect viewing spot.

Both events are free for everyone to attend.

“Hampton is our community, and we hope that everyone comes out and enjoys both days,” Merrill said.

— Danielle Roberts