The17th Annual Tamaqua Spirit of Christmas Festival will kick off next Friday, launching three days of attractions and events geared to all ages. The event sends a message that the special magic of the holidays is part of all of us, and it's right here at home, according to organizers.

A showcase of community spirit, the annual Tamaqua holiday festival brings together clubs, churches and organizations to stage one of the largest holiday festivals in Schuylkill County.

"We're doing things a little different this year," said Jean AnnTowle, chairman, explaining that people enjoy new attractions and fresh ideas, and so the festival will incorporate new concepts to keep things fresh.

The winter fest taps the talents and skills of organizations such as the Tamaqua Area Community Partnership, Tamaqua Area Chamber of Commerce, Tamaqua Historical Society, Eastern Schuylkill Recreation Commission, Tamaqua Beautification Association, Tamaqua Area Faith Fellowship Network and many other groups.

Committee members, representing a cross-section of the community, put finishing touches on festival programming at their final planning meeting held Monday at the Tamaqua Arts Center.

The festival, set for November 30 to December 2, will include many events offered free to the public.

Friday's activities will center on the Arrival of Santa Parade sponsored by the Tamaqua Area Chamber of Commerce. The parade will begin at 6:30 p.m. at the Tamaqua Borough garage and will include the Claus couple along with Little Miss Spirit of Christmas and Frosty the Snowman. The procession will stop at Depot Square Park to flip the switch to illuminate the park's light show. Afterward, the procession will continue to the Tamaqua Arts Center, 125 Pine Street.

"Santa and Mrs. Claus will greet the children, and you'll be able to take your own photos with Santa," said Towle, adding "Santa will be there to listen to children's wishes."

Saturday's activities kick off at 9 a.m. with Breakfast with Santa at the Tamaqua Salvation Army Regional Community Center, an event sponsored by the ESRC. Registration is required and will be accepted until Tuesday, November 27. More information is available at (570) 668-6899.

"Saturday we'll also be doing a House and Church Historic Walking Tour and Victorian Tea," said Towle. That event will take place at noon and will begin at the Tamaqua Arts Center. From there, participants will visit holiday-decorated destinations such as Zion Lutheran Church, the period-decorated 1801 Moser Log Home, the Daniel Shepp House and the 1874 Philadelphia & Reading Railroad passenger depot, site of the tea.

The event will be open only to those preregistered. More information is available at (570) 668-1880.

Another new event will be inaugurated later Saturday with Christmas Evening with Friends, a social gathering featuring holiday camaraderie spiced with hot and cold hors d'oeuvres, held from 6 to 8 p.m. at the Restaurant at the Station.

Also on Saturday, festival attendees can call on Jozef Rothstein, author of the hilarious book As the Matzo Ball Turns, which probes into the comical dark side of the entertainment and restaurant fields. Rothstein will be at the Tamaqua Arts Center providing readings of his work all day from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Also at the Center, a classic rock concert by The Brand will be featured from 6 to 9 p.m.

Sunday's activities will include the Spirit of Christmas Craft Fair held at the Tamaqua Salvation Army from 10 to 4, featuring a wide variety of craft vendors. Food also will be available. Additional vendors are welcome. More information is available at (570) 668-3268.

On Sunday afternoon, the Tamaqua Arts Center will present children's arts and crafts from 12:30 to 3, along with Mrs. Claus Story Hour from 1 to 2 p.m.

At the ABC Tamaqua High Rise, a presentation by the New Life Assembly of God Chorus will take place at 2 p.m. Sunday.

Also on Sunday, the Salvation Army will host a variety of entertainment beginning at noon and continuing beyond 3 p.m.

As darkness approaches, the festival will take on a solemn air with the Tamaqua Beautification Association Tree Lighting Ceremony in which the town's Christmas tree is officially illuminated.

That event takes place at 6 p.m. on Sunday at Depot Square Park and will include comments by Judy Hoppes, popular Tamaqua community volunteer and former festival chairman.

DJ Brandon Fritz will provide music at the park beginning at 5 p.m.

Other activities are scheduled for all weekend.

They include the Annual Holiday Cookie Contest of the Tamaqua Beautification Association. The competition is open to all residents and consists of the baking of two dozen cookies which can be dropped off at the Tamaqua Area Chamber of Commerce on Saturday between 1 and 2 p.m.

Similarly, a Gingerbread House Decorating Contest for children ages 6 to 12 is under way. Contestants can drop off their completed houses at the Tamaqua Arts Center on Thursday, November 29 from 6 to 8 p.m.

Winners of the cookie and gingerbread contests will be announced at the tree lighting ceremony. Afterward, attendees will move to the adjacent parcel, the Tamaqua Ambulance headquarters, for cookies and hot chocolate.

The popular Tree Trimming Contest coordinated by volunteer Kathy Schock will take place at the Tamaqua Arts Center with trees decorated during the week preceding the festival.

Among those taking part: Hometown Nursing Center, Tamaqua BPW, Tamaqua Xi Delta Omega Chapter of Beta Sigma Phi sorority, Tamaqua Education Association, Tamaqua Leo Club, Tamaqua Area Middle School, Tamaqua Cheerleaders, Tamaqua Youth Ministry, Nancy Kunkel, and the MAGIC After-School program. According to Schock, the trees will be decorated either Wednesday or Thursday per each group's preference.

Those interested in sponsoring a tree or requiring more information can contact Schock at (570) 668-3923.

On Saturday, December 8, which is the weekend following the festival, an Advent Community Breakfast will be held at Zion Lutheran Church. Tickets can be obtained at Tamaqua churches or from the Chamber at (570) 668-6899.

That evening, the townwide Night of Luminaria will take place at 5 p.m. At that time, local residents are encouraged to light the luminaria in front of their homes and businesses. The luminaria are available at Tamaqua area churches.

The Tamaqua Spirit of Christmas Festival traces its beginnings to 1994 at the start of the Tamaqua Area 2004 Partnership. The festival grew out of a partnership committee, eventually becoming a separate entity. Committee members represent a diverse cross-section of the community.