CAROLS AT THE LIGHTHOUSE, CANDLES IN YOUR HAIR:
CELEBRATING THE HOLIDAYS IN TRAVERSE CITY
By MIKE NORTON
TRAVERSE CITY, MI – It’s not easy wearing lighted candles on your head.
Nevertheless, every year in mid-December a young girl in a long white robe wanders the grounds of Traverse City’s former mental asylum delivering warm sweet rolls to holiday shoppers. And yes, in keeping with an old tradition, she wears a wreath of lighted candles in her hair in honor of St. Lucy, an early Christian martyr whose feast falls on Dec. 13.
It’s all part of the annual Santa Lucia Day in the Village at Grand Traverse Commons, the unique residential/retail development in what was once this Michigan town’s mental institution. Accompanied by flute music and carrying trays of fresh rolls from the local bakery, the young St. Lucy stand-in is one of the highlights of the holiday season in Traverse City.
Not so long ago the picturesque summer resort towns on Michigan’s northwestern coast pretty much emptied out after Labor Day, leaving the exhausted natives with lots of time on their hands to contemplate the prospect of another long, quiet winter. They responded by putting a great deal of energy and creativity in their holiday observances.
These days, thanks to a growing population and a thriving winter recreation industry, the Traverse City region is quite lively even in midwinter. Fortunately, many of the traditional celebrations are still going strong – and a few more have even been added.
Christmas preparations here start as early as October, when local churches, clubs and artist’s cooperatives begin staging the holiday arts and crafts fairs for which the region is justly famous. The most spectacular of these is undoubtedly the Nov. 9-10 juried show held by ArtCenter Traverse City, but a close second is the Dec. 1 “Merry Marketplace” at the Old Art Building in the village of Leland, where local artisans and growers offer fresh and dried holiday wreaths, jewelry, specialty foods, pottery, ornaments, cards and handknit items.
Gift-buying plays a big part in most holiday preparations, and in Traverse City’s charming downtown district they start the shopping season on Nov. 30 with a big outdoor extravaganza that involves carol-singing, the lighting of the community Christmas tree, and the arrival of Santa Claus on a bright red antique fire engine. Downtown merchants have also cleverly devised separate men’s and women’s shopping nights that include refreshments and prize drawings.
Each year, residents of the village of Northport, near the tip of the Leelanau Peninsula, decorate the Grand Traverse Lighthouse for Christmas as it was celebrated by the families who lived there in the early 20th century. The annualChristmas at the Lighthouse celebration is held this year on Dec. 2, and includes refreshments and entertainment by local musicians.
One of Traverse City’s most charming Yuletide events is the annual “Inn at Christmastime” open house at the Wellington Inn, where local florists and artisans literally ‘deck the halls’ of this beautifully restored 1905 neoclassical mansion with a spectacular display of holiday designs and decorations. This year’s event will be held Dec. 9 and Dec. 16.
An entirely different kind of holiday tradition is on display at the History Center of Traverse City, housed in the former city library. It’s the annual Festival of Trains, a delightful event that attracts thousands of visitors each year to watch dozens of working model train layouts created and operated by local model train aficionados. This year’s festival will be Dec. 15 to Jan. 1.
Traverse City is an intensely musical community, thanks in part to the nearby presence of the Interlochen Center for the Arts. Each year, students and staff at Interlochen put on a holiday special for the community. This year’s Dec. 13-15 presentation is a traditional favorite — Coppelia, a lighthearted ballet about a feisty village girl, her fiancé and a mischievous toymaker’s clockwork doll.
The town’s ornate 19th century Opera House also puts on a full schedule of holiday music in December, from a Dec. 2 concert by the Celtic-influenced Canadian Leahy Family to a Dec. 5 program featuring the Empire Brass and special guest star Elisabeth Von Trapp — including a “Sound of Music” medley in which the guitar solo Edelweissflows into an extraordinary rendition of Stille Nacht.
On the weekend of Dec. 8-9 the Traverse Symphony Orchestra presents its hugely popular “Home for the Holidays” concert, with conductor Robin Fountain leading performers and audience in a program of treasured Christmas classics, carols, medleys and holiday favorites.
New Year’s Eve isn’t forgotten here, either. For the past four years, hundreds of people have gathered for the annualCherryT Ball Drop, a three-hour “street party for charity” that culminates with the lowering of a large illuminated cherry over downtown Traverse City.To learn more about other winter attractions and events in the Traverse City area – and for a complete listing of lodging and dining options – contact the Traverse City Convention & Visitors Bureau at 1-800-TRAVERSE or on line at www.TraverseCity.com
This is a press-ready travel feature from the Traverse City Convention & Visitors Bureau. Please feel free to use it in any way you like. You may run it in part or in its entirety (with or without byline), or use it as a source for stories of your own. And if I can be of any additional help, please don’t hesitate to contact me.
Mike Norton, Media Relations
Traverse City Convention & Visitors Bureau
P: (231) 995-3909
F: (231) 947-2621