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the grand illumination  

In 1987, Dorothy “Dottie” Cordeiro felt that the town of Bristol needed some festive decorations around the holidays to enhance the town’s rich heritage. She contacted Halsey Herreshoff, Bristol Town Administrator at the time, with the idea of holding an annual tree lighting ceremony in front of the historic Burnside Building on Hope Street. Mr. Herreshoff liked the idea so much; he suggested creating a larger event, dubbing it, The Grand Illumination.

Since then, Bristol’s annual Grand Illumination and Christmas Festival celebration has become a natural part of the community’s fabric; second only to its Fourth of July festivities. Today, the annual event is one of the oldest and grandest in New England and has attracted tens of thousands of people.

Bristol Christmas festival 1987
Dorothy "Dottie" Cordeiro

Over the years, Dottie watched her idea of a simple tree lighting ceremony grow into an annual, and much anticipated, holiday festival.

In 2012 on the event’s 25th anniversary, Dottie Cordeiro and Halsey Herreshoff received the Bristol Christmas Festival Committee’s Spirit of Christmas award.

In an interview with the Bristol Phoenix, Dottie said, “All I wanted Halsey to do was to light the tree and sing some carols. The fact that it’s still going on is incredible,” she said. “It was like lighting a match. It just grew.” And that, even to the woman who inspired the idea, is nothing short of a Christmas miracle in itself. Sadly, Dottie Cordeiro passed away June 25, 2016.

In 2017, the Bristol Christmas Festival Committee unanimously voted to rename its annual Spirit of Christmas Award to the Dottie Cordeiro Spirit of Christmas Award in honor of her vision and enduring Christmas spirit.

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