December Brings Surge of Holiday Cheer (and a Cement Mixer) to Town


MIDDLEBURY — Snow-capped mountains and pine trees are not the only elements that imbue the Green Mountain valley with an aura of holiday spirit. This past weekend, a surge of holiday-themed events came to downtown Middlebury. With the start of December, the Better Middlebury Partnership (BMP) has again seized the opportunity to revamp and strengthen community interaction with downtown businesses.

The overarching marketing model of this month’s festivities comes with the slogan, “A Very Merry Middlebury.” According to Vermont Book Shop owner Becky Dayton, the tradition dates back nearly 10 years, with many Decembers being devoted to holiday cheer and shopping in the quintessentially Vermont town.

“It’s a nice thing for the community to offer for people who don’t have a lot of money to spend on holiday activities because all of the events are free,” Dayton said.

One of the most popular events is “Midd Night Stroll,” which will take place on the evenings of Thursday, Dec. 6 and Thursday, Dec. 13, for which many downtown businesses plan to stay open later than usual. Originally dubbed “Stag & Doe Night,” the stroll had been targeted at couples. Over the years, it has become more inclusive and is now aimed at a range of ages.

“Downtown businesses really like the Very Merry Middlebury events, in particular the Midd Night Stroll, which provides a significant bump in sales for many restaurants and merchants,” said Karen Duguay, executive director of BMP. “Any time town is filled with people, it feels alive and has energy, and that’s good for businesses.”

Last Saturday, the monthlong event kicked off with a day devoted to Christmas-themed events such as visits with Santa at the Middlebury Inn, a hot chocolate hut on Main St. and horse-drawn wagon rides. The hot chocolate hut boasts steaming drinks for 25 cents. And getting “The Works,” a generous topping of marshmallows, whipped cream and a peppermint stick, is free of charge. According to Duguay, the college has been a large supporter of the group’s endeavors over the years. The college donated the hot chocolate for the hut this season.

With craned necks and cheers, residents and college students lined Main St. to catch a glimpse of Santa arriving in Middlebury by fire truck. Arguably, though, the most festive truck in the state is a less suspecting vehicle — a cement truck affixed with over 25,000 Christmas lights.

The SD Ireland Light Mixer, a now well-known cement truck that makes its way across the western part of the state during the holiday season, is returning to Middlebury on Dec. 6 and 13 for the Midd Night Stroll.

SD Ireland, the construction and concrete company that owns the cement trucks, has worked on a slew of local projects, including the college’s very own Bicentennial Hall. While the company is based in Williston, Vermont, the sparkly, light-adorned trucks make their way across the northwestern region of the state each winter.

This is not the first philanthropic project of the concrete company, though. The family-run business, founded in 1975, also started a 501(c)(3) nonprofit for cancer research. But Scott Ireland, one of the co-owners, decided he wanted to add another dimension to their community involvement.

Ireland concocted the truck idea on a whim 14 years ago. His wife, Kim Ireland, described the process of dressing up one of the trucks in anticipation of December.

“It takes a good two weeks to do one truck with two to four guys working on it,” she said.

Ireland explained that attaching the lights — even to the rotating cement mixer — requires an unimaginable amount of clear duct-tape. After more than a decade, Ireland said she still feels like a little kid again when seeing the ebullient truck roll down the driveway for the first time each season.

Asked how they keep the 25,000 miniature lights aglow while driving down Route 7, Dayton provided a more cryptic response. “That’s the Christmas magic,” she said.

The lights themselves cost the family-run company around $5,000 per a truck. But beckoning one of the twinkling vehicles to a community event is free. Ireland said that people from across the state call to reserve the trucks during December.

The company even has a “Christmas Mixer Schedule” on their website highlighting where the cement trucks can be found next. This season, they are on the road from Thursday, Nov. 29 to Saturday, Dec. 29, with 37 events already lined up.

Several years ago, they expanded the operation to two trucks, with growing demand at local events. “There were just too many tree lightings going on at the same time,” she explained.

And when the trucks aren’t being featured at holiday pop-ups and tree lighting ceremonies? “The guys just enjoy driving them [along] Route 7,” Ireland said.