The lighting of the Edgartown Lighthouse kicked off a weekend of festivities Friday as the 38th annual Christmas in Edgartown got under way.

The event attraced a large, festive crowd on a damp night with rain in the forecast. Snow had fallen early in the week but was mostly gone.

Downtown Edgartown was a Currier and Ives scene early in the week. — Mark Alan Lovewell

On Saturday morning overnight downpours let up and the Main street parade went off as planned. Islanders and visitors dressed in colorful outfits crowded the downtown streets on a mild day.

This year’s celebration runs from Dec. 12 to 15. A full list of activities appears on the Gazette calendar.

The first event began 38 years ago on a shoestring, with a rusted-out red pickup truck, a miniature snow machine and sleigh-full of Christmas spirit.

“It was really just put together on a whim,” recalled Jane Chittick, who helped found the annual weekend celebration. “We had no budget, but we just knew we had to bring life to Edgartown in the Christmas season. It brought a few people in the first year, but within three or four years, inns started filling up and people were coming from all over the Northeast.”

This year, on the heels of an early season snowfall, businesses all along Main street have been adding wreaths and lights to their storefronts in anticipation of the annual window decorating contest, and chowder is brewing in pots all across the Island with hopes of wearing the crown for this year’s Great Chowder Contest.

Parade rolls down Main Street in Edgartown on Saturday, beginning at 11 a.m. — Mark Alan Lovewell

At Memorial Wharf, Sandy Fisher and his crew were stacking 150 conch pots into a towering, briny Christmas tree — complete with a stainless steel star.

The Teddy Bear Suite, located at Point B Realty at 19 Winter street, has already opened its doors to Island children. On Sunday, the group will also host the annual Teddy Bear Trot, a 5K walk or run that winds through downtown and returns to the starting line at the Boys and Girls Club. The Teddy Bear Suite benefits the Boys and Girls Club each year, raising $171,000 for the nonprofit since its inception eight years ago.

Christmas in Edgartown is sponsored by the Edgartown Board of Trade as way to keep business humming during the holiday season, and to raise money for local charities. There are 75 retail and charity organizations involved.

“We have seen the lists of programs and participants grow bigger and bigger each year,” said Erin Ready, executive director of the Edgartown Board of Trade. “Every year we see people get more creative. . . everyone participates in their own way.”

The board recently partnered with the Hy-Line ferry, which will be offering round-trip service to Edgartown throughout the weekend. The special route runs from Hyannis to Memorial Wharf.

Christmas in Edgartown has come a long way since that first year, said Ms. Chittick, but many events have a history that go back to the inception of the holiday weekend. The window decorating contest was started in 1981 when Barbara Nevin, who was a member of the Edgartown Board of Trade, convinced stores still open to decorate their storefronts. And as for the stores that were closed, Ms. Nevin got permission to decorate the windows herself.

Night falls on North Water street. — Mark Alan Lovewell

In 1981, Ms. Chittick was the executive director of the Vineyard Trust which had just restored the Old Whaling Church six months earlier. Ms. Chittick enlisted the Minnesingers to perform two holiday concerts that year, which the singers have continued to do each holiday season ever since. The high school choral group performs at the Old Whaling Church on Friday at 8 p.m. and Saturday at 4 p.m.

And the Christmas parade, which has become the anchor of the festivities, also started in earnest that year.

“The parade consisted of an old, red, pickup truck with Jack Greeley, the former reverend of St. Andrew’s, dressed as Santa Claus riding in the back.” Ms. Chittick said. “And there was a horse, a wagon and a small group of kids marching with a banner. And there were a few dogs, I remember, but they might have just entered the parade themselves. It didn’t snow that year, but Lauress Fisher brought his tiny, little snow machine from Edgartown Hardware Store and somehow got enough to dust the front of his store.”

Overall, the weekend is expected to bring over $50,000 to Island charities, Ms. Ready estimated.

“The snow has already arrived,” she said. “It’s no Fourth of July, but it’s its own thing. And very special to everyone, on and off the Island.”

More pictures.

Home page picture by Melissa Knowles: Edgartown parade brings Santa to town.