PORTLAND – If you were driving down State Street on Saturday, chances are you saw Santa wearing a clerical collar and playing “Jingle Bells” on a tuba. Before you hit the next red light, you may have come upon a guy in a kilt playing the bagpipes.

No, it wasn’t the unseasonably warm weather messing with your head.

It was all part of the State Street Holiday Stroll, a joint effort that brought four holiday fairs together for the first time. Organizers want it to become an annual event.

Mercy Hospital, the Maine Irish Heritage Center, the Cathedral Church of St. Luke and the State Street Church decided after holding their individual Christmas crafts fairs separately last year that it made more sense to join forces.

“We talked amongst ourselves and said, ‘Let’s pool our resources and get a bigger crowd, maybe, and do it all on the same day,’” said Colleen Harrington-Boland, one of the organizers of A Celtic Christmas at the Maine Irish Heritage Center. “We started meeting every couple of months to organize it.”

Mercy Hospital donated brochures that listed all of the businesses in the State Street neighborhood to give them some exposure. St. Luke’s put up signs all along State Street. “We all tried to contribute something,” Harrington-Boland said.

Joe Schilling, chairman of St. Luke’s fair, said the idea was to “engender a feeling of community here on State Street.”

“In the past, there was maybe a feeling of competition,” he said.

At the Maine Irish Heritage Center, the sound of Tom Ryan’s bagpipes floated downstairs as shoppers perused everything from Irish folk art and lamb’s-wool scarves to baked goods and jewelry. Celtic fiddlers and Irish dancers were also to perform throughout the day.

Catherine McKenna sold hats, T-shirts and pint glasses at the Irish American Club of Maine’s table, but she was really there to push the club’s next ceili, or traditional Irish dance, at Ri Ra pub next Sunday. “You don’t need to know anything about Irish dancing, and you don’t need a partner,” she said. “It’s a whole lot of fun.”

Down the street at Mercy Hospital, shoppers descended into the bowels of the building to find the Christmas Sampler Fair. The sterility of the hospital environment suddenly gave way to Christmas sights and smells, with vendors selling miniature Christmas trees, ornaments, wreaths and lots of crafts.

Marie Harrison was selling pendants and other jewelry made from sea glass, including little sea glass Christmas wreaths. She’s been coming to the Mercy Hospital fair for five years.

“We’ve had a lot of people come through, and personally, we’ve had some sales but not a lot,” she said. “But I think that’s happening all over, don’t you? People are being very careful.”

Across the street at St. Luke’s, tables of crafts, attic finds and baked goods were lined against the walls, surrounding the pews. The merchandise included a set of eight dishes for $8, yoga socks and a set of “texting wristlets,” made to keep hands warm while texting.

Joe Schilling hawked “Holy Bucks,” paper money shoppers could buy for $10 that gave them $12 in spending power.

“Just like the loaves and the fishes, they multiply,” Schilling said.

Carolers, part of the St. Luke’s choir, strolled in and sang “Deck the Halls” around a small Christmas tree, then went outside to sing “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer,” accompanied by the Rev. Benjamin Shambaugh, dean of St. Luke’s Cathedral, on his tuba.

Shambaugh, sporting a Santa hat, said passers-by were giving him good reviews. As for the fairs, “I love working together,” he said. “I think this is fabulous, just the sense of being a community.”

As the mercury hit 55 degrees, the strains of Shambaugh’s “Let It Snow” wafted down State Street.

Laura Labbe of Saco, walking toward St. Luke’s, said she loved the idea of the combined fairs. Labbe was out shopping both for Christmas gifts and for herself.

“I got a red hat,” she said, pulling her brightly colored purchase from the Irish Heritage Center out of a bag. “It’s something different. At Mercy Hospital, I found the prices very reasonable. I do like it, and I will come back again.”

Staff Writer Meredith Goad can be contacted at 791-6332 or at:

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