American Holiday Story

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Provincetown and the Sparkle Season

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by Steve Desroches

As 2021 approaches its end it seems safe to say it was a doozy of year in Provincetown. When summer began with Michael Packard getting gulped and then spat out by a whale it should have been taken as an omen that strange days were ahead. Then came the July outbreak of Covid, aggressive coyotes on the beaches, dorsal fins in the water, belonging to either mola molas or great white sharks, startling swimmers, a plane crash, and a swarm of mosquitos so ferocious we all wondered if they had escaped from a lab. It felt like it was one thing after another, and even in a town that’s used to the unexpected and bizarre happenings, 2021 had everyone asking “What’s next?!” It seemed entirely possible that the no talent losers who took “the muse” in American Horror Story: Double Feature might actually start roaming the streets in their Klaus Nomi jackets looking for fresh blood.

Throughout all the challenges of this past year, and 2020, the strength of the Provincetown community became clear. Even when it seemed like an unending torrent of bad news, the takeaway was that people came together to help each other. That grit and commitment is the mortar that holds the foundation of Provincetown together. So as we enter this season of gratitude, celebration, and rest, it is beyond comforting in this crazy, crazy world to be able to live in or visit a place like Provincetown.

Kicking off this special time of year is the Pilgrim Monument and Provincetown Museum, which will, as is tradition, illuminate the Monument for the holiday season. Once again, rather than on the night before Thanksgiving, the lighting will take place at 6 p.m. on November 11, the date the Mayflower arrived in what is now Provincetown Harbor in 1620. While again crowds will not be allowed to assemble on High Pole Hill, it is hoped that the town will “get loud for the lights” and honk horns and bang pots and pans once the Monument is lit, in particular to celebrate tolerance, acceptance, justice, and equality.

The Canteen Holiday Market. Photo courtesy of the Provincetown Business Guild

November 11 is also Veterans Day, a holiday to honor those that served in the United States Armed Forces. As part of that commemoration the Payomet Performing Arts Center in North Truro, along with the Cape Cod National Seashore, is hosting Remembrances of the North Truro Air Force Radar Station on November 12. Curated by Dan Lombardo, this series includes films, author talks, and an original play, among other community events. It is inspired by the Cold War site on which Payomet resides. There will be a showing of Rebecca M. Alvin’s documentary film, Out of Service: A Cold War Memory followed by featured speakers: Audrey Sherwin Parent, daughter of NTAFS Commander John Sherwin; Laura Canterbury Parker, daughter of NTAFS airman John Franklin Canterbury, who will be donating an album of photos taken during the decommissioning ceremonies as well as a playbill for it; Denise Ilkovich, daughter of John Doepper, who worked on Texas Towner #2 in Georges Bank and was out there when Texas Tower #4 off Long Beach, New Jersey collapsed, resulting in the deaths of 28 people in 1961.

Things get hot and wild at the Crown and Anchor come mid-November with the Mr. New England Leather Weekend, November 19 – 21, featuring Mr. New England Leather 2020 Roberto Cuero. Despite being associated with Plymouth, Provincetown has grown exponentially over the past decade as a destination for Thanksgiving. On the actual holiday and throughout the long weekend, many restaurants in town offer dining specials, and the shops in town begin sales for the holiday shopping season. In preparation for a big Thanksgiving dinner you can burn some calories in advance at the Provincetown Pilgrim 5K Trot that raises funds for HOW (Helping Our Women). The day after Thanksgiving the popular Holiday Market at Canteen opens and continues every Friday and Saturday through January 2. The day after Thanksgiving the good times begin to roll at Drag Bingo with Thirsty Burlington at the Crown as well as a one night only concert with the fabulous Qya Cristal and Donnelly & Richardon performing the songs of Dolly Parton, the Rainbow Connection Dance Party: Turkey Burn Off Edition at the Provincetown Brewing Company, and the Anita Cocktail Variety Hour, a drag extravaganza which will run through selected weekends in December and New Year’s weekend at the Post Office Cabaret. Tin Pan Alley and the Crown will host live music throughout the weekends of the holiday season, with Bobby Wetherbee, Jon Richardson, and Donnelly & Richardson playing at the latter, and the Atlantic House offers dance parties from Turkey Day until ringing in the New Year.

Peter Donnelly & Jon Richardson.

Perhaps the most beloved event of the Thanksgiving holiday weekend is the lighting of the Lobster Pot Christmas tree in Lopes Square on Saturday night. Designed by the late artist Julian Popko the 100-plus lobster pots are stacked over two stories high, decorated with ribbons, garlands, and thousands of festive lights to create a unique and historically significant reinvention of the Christmas tree in a specifically New England maritime manner.

The Provincetown Business Guild (PBG) is well known as one of the first LGBTQ+ chambers of commerce in the United States, but also as the producers of Carnival and the big parade, which has become the town’s signature event. But the PBG also presents Holly Folly and First Light, an LGBTQ+ holiday festival and the town’s New Year’s celebration. Holly Folly, December 3 – ­5, is a festival filled with entertainment, food, shopping, nightlife, and merry events created to welcome the winter season to the queerest resort town in the nation. All weekend visitors can stroll and shop their way along Provincetown’s bustling Commercial Street at the Holly Folly Shop Hop and Gallery Stroll. Buying from small, locally owned businesses helps to keep Provincetown devoid of bland, corporate chains and maintain the unique character of the town. To start the festivities off is the Jolly Holly Folly Ugly Sweater and Wig Bar Crawl on Friday night. To make it jolly, don your ugly sweater and a wig and stroll to your favorite bar or lounge for a holiday beverage, where Holly Folly hostesses, Trampolina and Constance Waverly, will be making surprise visits. Later that evening, stroll over to the Post Office Cabaret for the Tis the Season for Giving Benefit Show to raise money for the AIDS Support Group of Cape Cod. Hosted by Provincetown’s own Anita Cocktail, Tis The Season will feature performances by Abby Cummings, Zola Powell, Jona Williams, Liza Lott, John Swanson, Miller Brooks, and many more of your favorite entertainers from all over New England. This live performance will be streamed online in real time via postofficecafe.net.

Saturday, December 4, is Holly Folly Express Yourself Day, a new Provincetown tradition started this past summer. All are encouraged to convey their individuality and dress up in colorful, creative ways to celebrate the holidays, be it Christmas, Hanukah, the Winter Solstice, or whatever sparkles and shines. The day begins with the annual Jingle Bell Run and Champagne Brunch with sprinters and strollers in their finest Speedos, Santa, Rudolph, and naughty elf costumes making their way down Commercial Street. The Pilgrim House, the Post Office Cabaret, and the Crown and Anchor all have entertainment running throughout Holly Folly, with the centerpiece of the weekend the Holly Folly Follies Holiday Extravaganza. At the Crown the hometown favorite Thirsty Burlington presents her holiday spectacular and the party keeps rolling with the Babes in Toyland Dance Party and Toy Drive. This holiday edition of the Provincetown Follies brings some of Provincetown’s most iconic performers to the Provincetown Town Hall stage for a festive cabaret show that promises to be the gayest holiday show in town. Continuing the holiday celebration at Provincetown Town Hall on Saturday, December 18 is Sweet Honey in the Rock: Celebrating the Holydays. This special performance is a rare fusion of traditional American holiday spiritual songs and hymns, as well as songs from other cultures and religions ranging from Africa to Israel. This show is a seasonal presentation that also offers songs from the group’s extensive repertoire, including “We Are,” “Let There Be Peace,” “The Women Gather,” and “Come Ye.”

Thirsty Burlington. Photo courtesy of the Provincetown Business Guild

Many may be glad to cast off 2021 with hopes of better days ahead in 2022. Say goodbye to the old year and welcome the new with First Light, December 30 through January 2. Festivities include the Light Bright Bike Ride, where decorated and illuminated bicycles parade down Commercial Street. Parties, special dinners, and events abound at the nightclubs, bars, and restaurants in Provincetown New Year’s weekend, which is punctuated with the annual Polar Bear Plunge where the brave take a dip in chilly Provincetown Harbor New Year’s Day followed by fireworks at dusk. New Year’s weekend at the Crown rings in 2022 with the Provincetown Follies, the Robbie Pate Trio, and a grand New Year’s Eve Ball. 

Come January the beloved Coffeehouse at the Mews makes a return after almost two years dark, a sign of continuing progress and that 2022 may be a return to some sense of normalcy.

This issue marks the last edition of Provincetown Magazine for 2021. It been a thrill and a pleasure, as well as, at times exhausting, to cover arts, entertainment, and culture on the Outer Cape in what proved to be another challenging year. But Provincetown is tough and resilient, and we cannot wait to see all that 2022 has in store for us. One thing is for sure, you can count on Provincetown Magazine for top-notch storytelling all about one of the most dynamic, fascinating, and beautiful places on Earth. See you in April!