PHOTOS | Stockbridge Main Street at Christmas

STOCKBRIDGE - For nearly three decades, an iconic Norman Rockwell painting has inspired what's become one of the Berkshires' hallmark celebrations to usher in the holiday season.

Sunday's 27th annual recreation of Rockwell's "Stockbridge Main Street at Christmas" capped a three-day event augmented by a busy Saturday that included a tour of historic landmarks, caroling, holiday concert, holly fair and Christmas cookie bake sale.

Initially just the re-enactment and tour of local lodgings, the weekend festival has grown in size and popularity that would rival a much anticipated performance at nearby Tanglewood.

"It's right up the with a James Taylor concert," said Red Lion Inn General Manager Michele Kotek.

As in the illustration, classic cars and trucks - without the snow - lined up on Sunday afternoon for two hours in front of the Stockbridge Library Museum & Archives to the Red Lion Inn. All the while, children waited with their parents to see Santa and Mrs. Claus, carolers sang on the inn's front porch and horse drawn wagons gave revelers rides as thousands packed the blocked-off section of Main between the library and inn.

Bill Parker of Albany, N.Y., has brought his pearl blue and white 1933 Plymouth for the past eight years, thrilled to be participating in a local holiday tradition.

"What I like about it is we're not showing in a [classic car] competition," Parker said. "I like the atmosphere and the people are friendly."

Lenox native David Dotchin, along with his three-year-old son Henry and Bernese mountain dog Lola, appreciated the family-friendly activities.

"It's good for the kids and great if the weather cooperates," said Dotchin visiting from Scituate.

Long before the garland, wreaths and Christmas trees adorn the Main Street businesses , the Stockbridge Chamber of Commerce has pamphlets printed up in July promoting the weekend with tickets for the sold-out Saturday night concert, house/historic landmark tour and Sunday's Rockwell recreation.

The holiday festivities do draw newcomers who join the regulars who make their reservations at the Red Lion Inn months and in the case of Ed Gianelli, a year in advance.

The Smithtown, N.Y., man and his family for the past 20 years have trekked up from Long Island to meet old friends and enjoy the quaint New England town.

"It's all about tradition, family and friends," Gianelli said. "It gets the holiday off to a great start."

While brochures, social and print media are part of the advanced publicity, word of mouth is a big part of the chamber and its member business' advertising campaign.

"I spoke with a couple who were here over the summer ... and they brought some friends with them," Kotek said.

Many of the newbies joined the veterans of Stockbridge Main Street at Christmas to partake in the tour of seven area landmarks in Stockbridge and Lenox, including the newly refurbished library. Closed to the public the past two Decembers due to the renovation work, library director Katie O'Neil was glad the library no longer looked like a construction site.

"We're the bookend to the Red Lion Inn, so we know how important we are to the [painting,]" O'Neil noted.

What would Main Street at Christmas be without some divine involvement. The First Congregational Church held its long-established Holly Fair and for the third year, St. Paul's Episcopal Church has had a holiday cookie sale, headed up bu Donna Touponce.

"It's been fantastic," she said of being part of the Rockwellian weekend. "We just had some people come in who were here last year."

Contact Dick Lindsay at 413-496-6233