No matter the season, Harrisburg’s Italian Lake is a postcard come-to-life, with majestic trees, silvery water, elegant white and black swans, antique streetlights, textured walkways, formal gardens and an arched Japanese bridge.
Nestled in a well-established neighborhood of manicured lawns and solidly built homes, the lake serves as a popular backdrop to many wedding photographs, prom pictures, outdoor concerts and family outings.
This month, Italian Lake will be transformed into a life-sized Currier and Ives print, with glistening lights, illuminated entranceways, covered tents, Christmas carolers, horse-drawn carriages, ice skaters and, naturally, Santa Claus.
For the second straight year, the park in Uptown Harrisburg will be the site of “A Tremendous Christmas at Italian Lake.” The two-day extravaganza is also a chance to spread some Christmas miracles to the less fortunate as all proceeds benefit Bethesda Mission, which has given the homeless and area families hope for decades.
One of the event sponsors and volunteers is realtor Wendell Hoover, who has lived on the scenic perimeter of Italian Lake for more than five years.
He and his wife Brenda plan to bring their two daughters, ages 7 and 4, as well as their foster children, to the 2nd annual celebration. He volunteered at the event’s debut last year and remembers the wintry cold, the light snow that had already fallen and the celebratory tree-lighting, so he’s delighted by this year’s return engagement.
Another major sponsor is Tracy Jones, daughter of the late motivational speaker and author Charlie “Tremendous” Jones, and Charlie’s wife, Gloria. Charlie loved Christmas, recalled Katie Andreano, manager of communications for Bethesda Mission, prompting Tracy to contribute many of the decorations for the weekend’s events. Gloria is donating the synthetic skating rink.
Local historian and Harrisburg Parks Foundation’s immediate past Chairman Jeb Stuart has many time-honored photographs of activities on the lake, including a vintage ice skating snapshot that makes it look like Rockefeller Center in New York. Stuart himself skated on the lake as a child, recalling how he and his friends would take rest breaks on the earthen mound in the center of the lake before the ornate fountain was added in 1972.
This year, the ice skating will be on artificial ice instead of the lake’s natural ice. A petting zoo will also be on hand, along with an artisan market featuring 16 vendors selling crafts, jewelry and other unique local creations, perfect for holiday gift-giving.
Choral groups from area churches and schools will provide a soundtrack of Christmas carols under the new pavilion. Thanks to Recycle Bicycle, a parade of bike-riding Santas will pedal their way through, delivering donated hats, gloves, socks and scarves on Saturday. The tree-lighting takes place at 5 p.m.
The towering Christmas tree will be donated by Mark Everest of Linglestown and decorated by Good’s Tree and Lawn Care.
“Our vision for Christmas is to bring the entire Harrisburg region together for a weekend of fun and joy that also helps provide what is needed for the community,” Andreano said.
The event will allow Bethesda Mission to continue to serve men, women and children in need with its men’s shelter, women’s shelter and community center.
Peggy Grove, a former City Council member and a member of the loosely formed Friends of Italian Lake, said that, last year, she was decorating at the time of the celebration and was thrilled to hear the church choirs as she strung her lights.
“We really enjoyed the music,” she said.
The city’s Candlelight Tour, sponsored by Historic Harrisburg Association, coincides with the second day of the celebration, on Dec. 9, she pointed out.
Grove is also hosting her Harrisburg Gourmet Club that weekend. So, she plans to encourage her dinner guests to grab some hot chocolate and wander through the pop-up holiday village around the lake.
Stuart said that Italian Lake was part of the original City Beautiful plan developed early in the 20th century. Once a swamp, the lake became part of the meticulously planned Academy Manor neighborhood.
“(Italian Lake) is a gem—an absolute jewel for the city,” Stuart said. “It’s stunning in terms of landscape and setting.”
“A Tremendous Christmas at Italian Lake” takes place Dec. 8 and Dec. 9, noon to 5 p.m., at Italian Lake Park, N. 3rd and Division streets, Harrisburg. For more information, visit www.bethesdamission.org or the Facebook page: Christmas at Italian Lake.