Winter Lights festival in Milford this weekend

'Merlin Awakens' is this year's main show: Mac 'n cheese and chili contests will again nourish festival-goers

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  • Professional ice skaters perform for the main event at a past Winter Lights Festival (Photo by George Leroy Hunter)

  • Bernice Williams offers her mac masterpiece, made for the 2016 contest (Photo by Frances Ruth Harris)

  • Tom Holmes's ice sculpture is taking shape at the Ann Street Park rink. “It’s a give and take between mother nature and Tom,” joked organizer Mike Carson. (Photo by Anya Tikka)

By Anya Tikka

— It’s going to be a special celebration this year — the 10th anniversary of the Milford Winter Lights Festival.

There's plenty of pent-up demand for some real, lovely, old-fashioned ice after last year's festival was first postponed and then cancelled altogether because temps were too high. Keep your frostbitten fingers crossed for continued cold, at least until the festival weekend, Jan. 20-21.

In preparation, artist Tom Holmes has been busy creating a ice sculpture at the Ann Street Park ice rink that will be illuminated with colored lights at night. He first creates the frame, and then his vision, by spraying water that quickly freezes up.

“It’s a give and take between mother nature and Tom,” chuckled organizer Mike Carson.

The main show at the rink is “Merlin Awakens,” to be performed at 2 p.m. on both Saturday and Sunday. The rink will stay open for free skating, for all to enjoy, until warm weather returns.

The whole event is free with funding provided by grants and donations by corporations and individuals, including The Community Trust Fund and Pocono Arts Council.

Mystery macsCarson said festival-goers will see the usual Mac 'n Cheese and Chili contests kick off the festivities. The Dimmick Inn will again host them, starting 11:30 a.m. on Saturday. There will be some new, improved rules for the contests this year.

“We’re changing the approach,” Carson said. “Now it’s going to be totally unknown to the participants whose food they’re tasting.”

The food by area restaurants and home chefs will be served by seven volunteers. The ballots will carry no names, only numbers.

“We wanted it to be totally open,” Carson said.

The ballots will be counted at 2 p.m., and then the first-, second-, and third-place winners will be invited to the ice rink's main stage. The show starts at 2 and goes on until 2:45.

“We’ll break at 2:20, announce the cook-off winners, and they get pictures taken,” Carson said.

Merlin vs. Morgan Le FeyThe festival will end with a celebratory ice show, performed by Frozen Feet Theater and sponsored by the Parks and Recreation Committee. Some of the skaters are from Ice Theatre of New York, and Milford’s own Jordan Hardy will also skate. In between there will be a jazzercize warm-up led by a Jen Murphy Fitness instructor, a young skaters' performance, and free skating — some by torchlight.

In the main show, “Merlin and Morgan Le Fey battle each other," Carson said. "Each one wants to prove they are the better magician, but Morgan wants power and Merlin want good for everyone. We’ll see how they are going to solve that battle."

Because this is an Olympics year, organizers wanted to highlight the hard training required of all world-class skaters. They once had to do "numbers," in which they skated an exact figure — like 8 or 2 or 3 — to show their skills on the ice. This requirement has now been eliminated from the Olympics, but it will be featured at Winter Lights.

“Were going to put up an exciting piece that shows what it is," said Carson.

The show will show what young skaters, ages 13 to 15, can do.

“They are going to be the champions of America when the go to Olympics,” Carson said.

A piece called "Flight" features “a very large blue skirt that billows out when she performs.”

Each day, when the show is over, it'll take a few moments to clear the rink, then it's open for free skating. The rink has been set up by a committee and by hundreds of dedicated volunteers. Carson gave credit to the borough council’s Parks and Recreation Committee, Scott Shelton, Mike Zimmerman, Jeff Mackey, and President Beth Papa. Borough representative Annette Haar has been in charge of overall organizing.

Carson expects this year’s festival to go ahead, even though day temperatures are projected to rise into the 40s. But it will be okay, he said, because the nights will be chilly, which wasn't the case last year.

“We’re going to do what we like to do, combine our stories on ice with puppets in stages," said Carson. "It should be a very interesting show.”

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