New winter celebration to light up Bristol next week

BRISTOL — Bristol community leaders are planning a new night of live flame, celebration and light to drive the darkness away.
“Lumen,” as the new celebration is called, will take place downtown on next Friday, Dec. 23.
“I love ritual and I think that there’s a lack of it in our culture,” said Jess Messer, a local chef/food activist/entrepreneur who developed the concept with Ian Albinson. “So I was looking for something that was a celebration of positivity and light, around the solstice, something the chase away the darkness of winter.”
Messer had long been wanting to do a fire-related event through Tandem, the Main Street business that she and business partner Lauren Gammon share cooperatively as a prep kitchen, event space and occasional storefront. She sees the idea of behind Lumen going beyond your typical downtown booster event.
“I was looking for a something a little bit more, something with an aspect of ritual and gathering and shared experience. This year in particular people have been looking for points of connection because it seems like there’s been a lot of disconnection,” Messer said.
She brought the idea to Albinson, executive director of Bristol CORE, an organization whose goal is to maintain economic vitality in town. The two teamed up to host this downtown celebration. They hope Dec. 23 will be a sweet spot between other Bristol solstice and holiday-related events (including the annual solstice gathering at the Bristol Watershed on Dec. 21) and the flurry of activity that for many families sets off on Christmas Eve.
Lumen will begin on the Bristol green at 5 p.m. with performances by the fire-breathing, fire-juggling Cirque de Fuego (Fire Circus), from Jericho (see a story on this amazing group here). Hot chocolate, marshmallows and s’mores kits and other snacks will also be for sale.
Beyond food and fun, participants will have a chance to write down on slips of paper “things they want to get rid of from 2016,” giving voice to bits of darkness they want to cast off as thoughts turn toward the new year.
After the Cirque de Fuego performance, the entire crowd will process down Main Street carrying lights. At the other end of Main, in the alley next to Vermont Tree Goods and between Lumen and National Bank of Middlebury will be more fire pits, where participants can burn those scraps of paper, drink hot cider or mulled wine, roast chestnuts and toast a marshmallow.   TANDEM’S JESS MESSER and Bristol CORE’s Ian Albinson are the team behind Bristol’s new midwinter celebration of fire and light, Lumen. The Lumen celebration on Dec. 23 will involve live fire-juggling performances, a candlelight procession and a fire-pit marshmallow roast.
Independent photo/Gaen Murphree
Because it’s not just a first-time event but one that involves live flame, Messer and Albinson are continuing to work out the details and make adjustments as needed.
For example Messer’s original idea had been to combine the primitive thrill of live flame with the equally primitive satisfaction of an outdoor pig roast.
“There’s a reason why since the dawn of man people have gathered around fire and the smell of cooking meat. Nothing brings people together more than those things,” Messer said.
However, the roasting pig in the alleyway outside Lumen idea had to give way to tamer carnivorous satisfactions. The change to serving roast meats — just not roasted with live flame on site — was made in the interests of neighborly harmony.
Downtown businesses will be open, so there will also be a chance for a bit of last-minute holiday shopping.
Both Albinson and Messer emphasized that the Bristol Fire Department will be on hand throughout the event.
“When you decide to do a fire event and you want to have it in the middle of your downtown, there are quite a few things that you need to do to make sure that it’s safe and that everyone knows what’s happening and that you have permissions,” said Albinson.
Albinson and Messer said that when they began planning the event their first conversation was with Bristol Fire Chief Brett LaRose.
“He was very enthusiastic, very supportive,” said Albinson. “He’ll be there with a truck …  and some volunteers.”
Albinson also explained that the “lit” procession down Main Street won’t involve live flame but something more along the lines of festive lanterns powered by LEDs.
“That was the one stipulation from the Bristol selectboard. They had a concern about that (actual lit candles being used in the procession), so we’re adapting,” Albinson said.
As plans for Lumen continue to progress, both organizers remain excited about the new event.
“It’s really just a way for us to engage with our community and just let people know that we’re all in it together and celebrate that togetherness around a flame,” Messer said.
Lumen will begin at 5 p.m., Friday, Dec. 23, on the Bristol green. To learn more about the event, see the related Arts + Leisure story about Cirque de Fuego.
Reporter Gaen Murphree is reached at [email protected].

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