The bright white bulbs that light the downtown district and the hearts of New Canaan families each year at the Holiday Stroll and Tree Lighting Ceremony will shine longer than ever this season, while private donations to fund this tradition trickle to an all-time low.

The fifth annual Holiday Stroll will kick off with a countdown at 6:30 p.m. on Friday, Dec. 4, when Santa Claus arrives to light 50 street-side trees. About $20,000 worth of bulbs and 150 hours of labor ensure that branches overhanging Elm, Forest and Main streets glow 400 light strands bright for the two-day event and into the New Year.

In the start of a new tradition, the lights will briefly switch on for a festive preview during the weekend following Thanksgiving, but the bulbs will darken again for the next four days leading up to the Chamber of Commerce-sponsored event.

"People are under the assumption that this is one of the things that their tax dollar go to, and that's not true," Chamber of Commerce Executive Director Tucker Murphy said. "We have to start from square-one every year to raise that $20,000."

The town, she said, absorbs electricity costs.

The lights are an integral part of the awe of the celebration, Murphy said, which brings song, dance, shopping, surprises and, of course, lights to the streets of New Canaan each December. But with the economic recession still lingering its hold on the town and the country, downtown district merchants who usually foot the bill are fronting fewer dollars.

This year, the Chamber and many downtown clerks are soliciting private donations from New Canaan residents with bills to spare. Donation canisters decked with the "Light up New Canaan" slogan are scattered at downtown checkout counters including Tony's Deli, Dunkin' Donuts, Gramophone, Made It Myself, Rosie, Mackenzie's, Connecticut Muffin and New Canaan Ski and Sport. Change, cash and checks made out to New Canaan Chamber of Commerce are accepted at these locations and more.

The Holiday Stroll and Tree Lighting Ceremony will be held on Elm, Forest and Main Streets on Friday, Dec. 4, from 5:30 p.m. to 8 p.m and on Saturday, Dec. 5, from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.