As a choir sang beneath the ornate domed ceiling of City Hall’s circular, marble staircase, a group of onlookers did their best not to join in on the well-known chorus to “We Wish You a Merry Christmas.”
Rather, they sat tapping their toes and smiling at the Octavo Singers, a Schenectady County-based choir that was just one part of an afternoon full of holiday festivities downtown.
“This is perfect,” said choir director Curtis Funk after the group concluded. “There’s nothing better than a dome for vocals. I definitely want to come back here and do something after the holidays. They sound terrific. It’s like singing in the shower.”
City Hall was far from mundane Saturday, as families milled about its hallways on the first and ground floors during the Downtown Schenectady Improvement Corp.’s eighth annual Holiday Open House.
Outside City Hall, kids clamored to get in line for horse-drawn carriage rides. Two black draft horses headed up the procession, with six rows of families squeezed in behind them for a ride to Union Street and back on the chilly afternoon.
On the steps, a father and son peeked through the Dudley Observatory as Larry Meyerhoff wandered through the streets in a kilt and bagpipe getup. Just inside the entrance, Pete Beeble “The Magic Balloon Artist” made Christmas tree balloons for a line that extended far enough back to make parents groan at the sight.
Downstairs, a group of parents shrugged off an arts and crafts section that looked “too science fairey” and directed their kids around the corner to a booth where The Puppet People were putting on a show for a crowd seated on the floor.
In the downstairs atrium, 3-year-old Evan Royer was getting his picture taken with his sword balloon. His mother, Kaitlynn Roselan, said it was their first time at the open house.
“His favorite thing is Toy Story, but he saw all the other kids with swords,” she said. “All the big boys have swords.”
Roselan, 24, lives in Schenectady and said the afternoon was full of fun activities that are perfect for kids. She and Evan went on a carriage ride with her aunt and were on their way to watch The Puppet People next.
“I think this is fun,” she said. “It’s great for the kids.”
Face painters nearby said their most popular requests were candy canes, Christmas trees and hearts “for the girls.”
The open house was designed to celebrate Schenectady and its businesses. A host of shops and eateries along South Ferry, State and Jay streets were offering specials and activities — many holiday-themed — to draw in the leisurely.
From inside Proctors, the Junior League’s Holiday Boutique ran a free gift-wrapping station for anyone who made a purchase downtown. There were also holiday decorating demonstrations at Experience & Creative Design on Union Street.
From its new location, New York Folklore Society was hosting Christmas-themed storytelling with Alden Doolittle. After they finished their City Hall performance, the Octavo Singers stopped by St. Joseph’s Church on Lafayette Street for a Hallelujah Chorus sing-along.
“We’ve got some beautiful four-part carols and are ready to work Jay Street until about 5,” said Funk.
Betsy Becker came out from Mayfield on Saturday to show her friend and “her little munchkins” what downtown Schenectady has to offer for the holiday season.
She came to the open house last year and wanted to come again because of the variety of activities for kids, she said.
“They have the balloon animals, the face painting, singers, crafts for the kids inside, and they have these street performers who just sing and wear costumes,” said Becker. “The Open Door Bookstore is a wonderful thing for the kids. It’s fantastic and has all of these kids’ games, books and puppets, and over there is a gentleman just walking around playing bagpipes.”
That gentleman was eventually joined by a full-on procession, including Santa and Rudolph, for a march to the intersection of State and Jay streets at 5 p.m., where a holiday tree was lit just as it was getting dark.
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