Bay City shines bright like a diamond during the holiday season

When in doubt, add more sparkle appears to be the theme of the season for Bay City’s business districts. Garland, decorative lights, wreaths, bells, snowmen, and more adorn sidewalks and lamp posts outside businesses throughout the community. Peek in the windows and you’ll see charming, seasonal displays.

The horse-drawn carriage rides are offered for a few hours on Sundays between Thanksgiving and Christmas.The most distinctive sight, though, may be the Christmas tree at the foot of Center Avenue, overlooking Downtown Bay City, Wenonah Park, and the Saginaw River.

A decorated tree overlooks Downtown Bay City from Wenonah Park.On Nov. 25, Downtown Bay City held its annual Christmas Tree lighting in the park. With unusually warm weather, a record 4,000-plus people filled the park to welcome Santa Claus, sing carols, and cheer as the switch was flipped to turn on the tree’s lights. Last year, about 3,000 people attended the annual event.

“This year it went like any other year — fantastic,” says Downtown Development Authority Director Michael Bacigalupo, who was also the event emcee.

Whether you're shopping for gifts for someone else or yourself, the downtown shops are offering seasonal specials.Clements Electric, along with Dave and Sally Clements, supplied the tree on a flat-bed with the help of O’Donnell’s Earthworks, the City of Bay City, and M & K Farms.

“With any event of this size, you have some bumps, but it did go very well. We had tree donator Brenda Kramers’s second grade class (from McAlear Sawden Elementary) sing a Christmas song, and Nicole King helped out with singing the National Anthem and a holiday song,” Bacigalupo says.

The Bryan and Brenda Kramer family donated the tree at the center of downtown this year.Sixth Ward City Commissioner Chris Girard also read “The Night Before Christmas,” during the event.

Bacigalupo adds this year’s crowd was the biggest he’s ever seen at the event, which is also Downtown Management Board Marketing Director Kellie Rupp’s favorite to plan. So large was the crowd, the seashell design area of Wenona Park was filled, and people gathered around the tree from the intersection of Water Street and Center Avenue.

The Drydock Beer Garden transforms from a outdoor bar into an indoor marketplace in late November and early December.If you’re out shopping, you may have noticed other elaborate lights around town, some of which hark back to the 1990s Tunnel of Lights or River of Lights displays. This year, multiple displays originally part of the River of Lights were set up before Thanksgiving and will remain on display through January 2023 thanks to Clements Electric.

Lights shine at night, while bright sunshine illuminates holiday decor during the day.“The Santa and his Reindeer was the first display talked about,” Bacigalupo says. “Dave Clements had asked me where we had a building big enough, and I said the museum, which was right across from where it was displayed at FP Horak. So that worked out great.”

In the spring and summer, flowers fill the planters at the corner of Center and Washington avenues. In the winter, traditional holiday decorations brighten the intersection.The Peace on Earth Display can be viewed inside the bandshell in Wenona Park, toy soldiers guard both sides of the tree next to Wenonah Park, Santa rides in a horse-drawn carriage nearby, and with the permission of City Manager Dana Muscott and Battery Park Manager Keith Markstrom, an extra toy soldier guards the Gold Star Memorial.

“The Tunnel of Lights and the City of Lights was an amazing journey, it is too bad that they had to go away,” Bacigalupo adds. “We are working slowly to bring some of them back, even though we cannot fix them we are looking to fund the purchase of other light exhibits.”

The elaborate light displays go back to 1998 when former Bangor Township Supervisor Terry Watson started the event.

Both sides of the Saginaw River were illuminated with huge and magnificent Christmas light displays set up everywhere from Veterans Memorial Park, Wenonah Park, and the former F.P. Horak building, which once stood on the corner of Saginaw and McKinley streets.

Giant wreaths give downtown a festive atmosphere.Displays included an actual tunnel of lights near the Liberty Harbor Marina, a snowman in Veterans Memorial Park, and a large display of candles and poinsettias in Wenonah Park. The festival ran until 2008 when financial woes forced it to end.

Rupp says the most magical part of this year’s holiday season for her was the tree-lighting ceremony.

Downtown Bay City is a busy place on Sundays between Thanksgiving and Christmas.“The most special guests to me would be my family that was there,” says Rupp. “I have two nephews, 5 and 3, and a niece that is almost 2. Last year they couldn’t make it and this year they could. It made the night just that much more magical to me. Knowing that Aunt Kellie is helping create memories makes me happy.”

Home streaming services can't hold a candle to watching holiday favorites on the big screen at the State Theatre.Rupp adds she was thrilled to see the light installations light up again, and it brought back memories of family car rides around the city to see them all.

In addition to the lights and tree, portions of Water Street were closed off and the tent housing Santa was moved closer to the tree. The Drydock Beer Garden was also open, helping to bring in larger crowds.

The fragrance of fresh pine fills the air of the downtown district.“The Drydock was absolutely packed the entire night during the event,” Bacigalupo adds.

The Drydock portion was so successful that Rupp says the downtown district hopes to open the outdoor bar again next year.

Snowflakes, elves, and more fill store windows this holiday seasonl“People who did and did not go to Santa's Arrival showed up and supported Downtown Bay City despite the cooler temperatures than they're used to at Drydock,” Rupp says.

With a little help, children can pet the horses.Other plans for 2023’s lighting ceremony including inviting food vendors, Bacigalupo says. Rupp adds she’d like to see more glow sticks, happy memories, and activities.

Horse-drawn sleighs take families on tours of the downtown decorations.“We talked about some things that we need to change in years ahead, but that is part of the event planning process, and we learn from everything we do,” Rupp says.

The planning for this year’s event started in August.

The horses attract the attention of young and old visiting downtown on Sundays.“It takes a village and good communication to get Santa in town and the tree lit, but the hard work shows off,” Rupp says. “I just want to say thank you to Mike, The Clements Family, and everyone who helped put this evening together. It was a great time."