The annual holiday lighting of the trees on the Commonwealth Avenue Mall will stretch an additional two blocks this year, going all the way from Arlington Street to Kenmore Square, as the newly formed Commonwealth Avenue Mall Enhancement Committee takes charge of the effort.
The new committee comprises members of the Committee to Light the Commonwealth Avenue Mall, the all-volunteer group that lit the mall’s trees in years past, and representatives of the Friends of the Public Garden, which worked with the committee to ensure that the installation of the lights was done in such way that paid heed to the health and care of the trees themselves.
The annual tradition began when the late Back Bay resident, Ted Cutler, and his wife, Joan, traveled to Paris about 20 years ago and saw the dazzling holiday lights on the Parisian boulevards. Upon returning home, the Cutlers thought that similar holiday lights on the Commonwealth Avenue Mall would be an amazing addition to winter in Boston and set about to make this a reality.
In the past, a few families have traditionally donated money to light the Commonwealth Avenue Mall during the holidays, although people generally didn’t realize this was a private endeavor and instead thought it was an effort funded by the city.
“This is a private endeavor that relies on the donations of private residents and is not funded by the city.” said Matt Sidman, who led the Committee to Light the Commonwealth Avenue for at least the past decade and is now a member of the Commonwealth Avenue Mall Enhancement Committee. “Over the years, we’ve really had to explain this to people.”
It made sense over time for the Friends of the Public Garden to become more involved in the holiday lighting of the Commonwealth Avenue Mall, said Sidman, since the nonprofit was already maintaining the trees, statues, and benches in the park (as well as in the Public Garden and the Boston Common).
The Friends are also very supportive of the idea of the Commonwealth Avenue Mall Enhancement Committee working to help ensure that the Commonwealth Avenue Mall doesn’t get overshadowed by the other two parks, said Sidman, while the new group will also give the Back Bay community more of a “voice” when it comes to the Mall.
“The new committee will give Back Bay residents a real voice in the future of the Mall, and we believe it will improve everyone’s experience on the Mall going forward, so we’re really excited about it,” said Sidman, who added that he believes combining the efforts of the Friends group with those of the erstwhile Committee to Light the Commonwealth Avenue Mall will be more than sum of its parts.
“Hopefully in this case, one plus one will equal three,” said Sidman. “We listened to people and really want organizations, when appropriate, to come together to create more value for the community, and that’s basically what’s happening here.”
This year’s tree lighting is also only the beginning of an ongoing commitment by the Commonwealth Avenue Mall Enhancement Committee to the park.
“The idea is to have real transparency, and to create a way that the community can give directly to the Commonwealth Avenue Mall, so we can enhance it any way we see fit.,” said Sidman.
Friends President Liz Vizza said in a press release, “We know the holiday lights add to the feeling of safety and enjoyment on the Mall during some of the darkest and coldest nights of the year. Parks are for people and the opportunity to take on responsibility for the holiday lights is a way to celebrate this special park and help expand our reach.”
Added Vizza: “We are thrilled to have the opportunity to work with Matt Sidman and the longtime advocates of the holiday effort and to deepen our relationships in the Mall adjacent neighborhoods to build a tradition of year-round support for this special park.”
Sidman and Vizza will join Mayor Michelle Wu and Ryan Woods, commissioner of Boston Parks and Recreation, in welcoming the crowd at the Holiday Lights 2022 Ceremony on Thursday, Dec. 1, at 8 p.m. on the Commonwealth Avenue Mall at the intersection of Commonwealth Avenue and Arlington Street. At 8:30 p.m., Mayor Wu will turn on the holiday lights for 2022. The Newbury Boston will be providing cocoa and cookies for the assembled crowd.
The Friends invests more than $500,000 annually in the care of the Commonwealth Avenue Mall, and the 2022 Holiday Light project is expected to require an additional $160,000. To make a gift in support of the Holiday Light Display or for the ongoing care of the Commonwealth Avenue Mall, visit https://friendsofthepublicgarden.org/holiday-lights/.