Luminaria kicks off WinterFest Amherst

Saturday gathering marks beginning of week-long event


Ana Pietrewicz

By Ana Pietrewicz, Assistant Op/Ed Editor

The town of Amherst kicked off the annual week-long WinterFest celebration on Saturday night with a Luminaria on the Amherst Town Common.

This year’s Luminaria was themed “fire and ice” and featured live ice sculpting from Northampton artist Rob Kimmel, fire juggling from Matica Circus Arts of Connecticut, live music from musical duo Cajordion and the Amherst College DQ a cappella group, food trucks and a walk-through path illuminated by “over 2,000 candle lit luminaries,” according to the Amherst Downtown website. The free event was organized by the Amherst Downtown Business Improvement District in partnership with the town.

“It’s an event for the community,” said Nicole Abelli, special events, camps and outreach coordinator for Amherst Leisure Services. “It was created to break up the monotony of winter, and to break up the time before spring and summer.”

Pioneer Valley residents, Five College students and visitors to the area gathered on the town common to partake in the events, which began around 5 p.m. A table advertising for North 116 Flats distributed free hot chocolate, and there were several fires in metal barrels set up for attendees to warm up around while enjoying the events.

Ana Pietrewicz/Daily Collegian

The Luminaria attracted many families looking for local entertainment on the cold Saturday evening, some from as far away as the North Boston area. Visitors of all ages enjoyed the evening’s attractions, gathering in crowds to watch the construction of the ice sculpture, the fire juggling and to listen to the live musical performances by Cajordion and later in the evening the Amherst College DQ.

For some University of Massachusetts students, the Luminaria was a chance to explore the Amherst community. Tina Chen, a freshman biology major, Ally Brookhart, a freshman biochemistry and molecular biology major and Hannah Ammirato, a freshman biology major, took the opportunity to venture out of UMass for the evening.

“We wanted to get off campus, and we saw this and decided to check it out,” Chen said. “I’ve never seen a lantern path like this.”

“It’s really cool, [the Common] looks so pretty all lit up,” Brookhart said.

Saturday’s Luminaria marks the beginning of a week of WinterFest events. “The largest winter festival in Western Mass,” according to Amherst Downtown, features over 35 events throughout the week, including the WinterFest Ice Hockey Challenge Cup, food demonstrations, hikes, figure skating and winter crafts. The events will conclude with the Grand Finale on Saturday, Feb. 9, held at the Cherry Hill Golf Course. The Grand Finale will be “free for the first time in four years,” according to Abelli.

An events schedule for the rest of the WinterFest week can be found here.

Ana Pietrewicz is an assistant Op/Ed editor and can be reached at [email protected] or followed on Twitter at @anapietrewicz.