‘Sanford Shines’ bright for another Christmas season

If you’re looking for a Hallmark-style Christmas, Sanford is the place to be.

Sanford Shines is an event when community members bring in Christmas trees or exhibits to light up along the perimeter of Porte Park in Sanford. Through the new year, people are welcome to drive by and see the lights, beginning Nov. 20. The event is returning for its second year.

“It found its legs last year in the aftermath of the flood,” says Anna Merillat, program coordinator for Sanford Shines. “There were actually a few groups talking about doing something like this, and it all came to fruition to memorialize that space in honor of Christmas and in honor of the people who lost their homes down there.” It was a neighborhood just south of downtown Sanford.

Sanford Shines began last year as a way to memorialize those who lost their homes in the flood.Merillat recently learned that Bill Schuette, former Michigan Attorney General, and Chris Moultrup, director of business development at Three Rivers Corp., were among the people talking about starting this event last year.

“Early in the recovery,” says Merillat, “they were standing on Saginaw Road looking at the devastation and [Schuette] said, ‘we need to try to have a Hallmark-type Christmas event here in Sanford.’” 

Last year’s event was a hit.

“[People] were so happy — it was just a joyful thing,” says Merillat. “I was most impressed by how many people told me, ‘I couldn’t tell you how many times I drove through that park to look at the lights.’ Some people literally drove through every other night to see them. And my family was doing that too,” she says, laughing.

There will be two special community trees this year: a Cancer Awareness Tree and a Mitten and Glove Tree.There are 81 exhibitors set up around the perimeter of Porte Park formed by Center, Railway, Cedar, and Main Street. Even with the “Silent Night” tree lighting event on Nov. 20, Merillat is still open to adding more exhibits up until Thanksgiving.

“I’d love to see that (number of exhibitors) hit 100,” says Merillat.

Those interested in bringing in a tree or exhibit can sign up with this online form. Exhibitors are asked to bring their own tree or creations to decorate; wooden pallets are provided for anchoring against the wind. All other materials, such as tie-downs, ornaments, and lights, must be brought by the exhibitor. Merillat asks that LED lights are used to conserve power, and she recommends zip tying ornaments to the tree to keep them in place.

“People put a lot of creativity into their trees that you can see when you walk it during the day, but at night, of course, you’ve got all the drama and beauty of the lights,” says Merillat.

There will be two special community trees this year: a Cancer Awareness Tree and a Mitten and Glove Tree. 

People are welcome to decorate the Cancer Awareness Tree in honor of a loved one who is fighting, has survived, or was lost to cancer. There will be different-colored ribbons representing the various types of cancers to put on the tree. People are also welcome to hang a photo of that loved one on the tree. A laminator and a hole-punch available to do so.

ONECHURCH is overseeing the Mitten and Glove Tree, which will be decorated with mittens and gloves.

“As people who need mittens and gloves come and take them, we’ll encourage people to replace them, to keep that tree filled with mittens and gloves for people to take who need them throughout the holiday,” says Merillat.

Downtown businesses on Saginaw Road will also be putting out trees this year, too.

On Dec. 3, “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas”

Since students at Meridian have a half day of school on Friday, Dec. 3, Sanford Shines is planning family-friendly holiday festivities starting at 3 p.m.

Connie Methner, co-owner of CJ’s Hairstyling, will spray hair red and green. At Methner’s studio nearby, there will be face painting and Christmas line dancing. Carnival games and crafts will be inside of Lanny’s old building and Community of Christ church. There will also be a singing Santa Claus who will not be accessible to children.

Sanford Shines is planning family-friendly holiday festivities, including a nighttime lighted parade, on Dec. 3.Then at 5 p.m., there’s a one-hour break in the festivities. Attendees are free to enjoy the live music from Mid-Michigan Brass Band, grab a meal at Marl’s BBQ food truck, snack on cookies or cocoa bombs from Hannah Miller’s All Good Things Bakery Studio, or relax with a signature holiday drink from Red Oak. Since street traffic will be closed, people can safely walk around Porte Park to view the trees up close.

There will also be Sanford swag for sale. Proceeds will go toward the ballfield. New this year is a “Men of Sanford” calendar.

“We’ve been working on this for a while now,” says Merillat. “Taking pictures of all the men around town who have been really instrumental in bringing back the town in one way shape or form. … We felt like the women got a lot of talk in the press, so we wanted to give the men their way to shine.”

And then, at 6 p.m., the lit parade will travel through town.

“It was so amazing,” says Merillat. “During the event last year when we had the parade and the music, I just felt like, ‘oh my gosh, am I living in a Hallmark movie right now? This is so cool.’ I hope we can create that same kind of excitement this year.”

For updates on the events, visit the Sanford Shines Facebook page. To sign up to display a tree or exhibit, fill out this online form. Or, to donate funds to the recovery, go to the Midland Area Community Foundation website and choose the “Village of Sanford Recovery Project Fund #1086.” 

Read more articles by Crystal Gwizdala.

Crystal Gwizdala is a freelance writer with a focus on health and science. As a lifelong resident of the Tri-Cities, she loves sharing how our communities are overcoming challenges. Crystal is also a serial hobbyist — her interests range from hiking or drawing to figuring out how to do a handstand. Her work can be seen in Wide Open Eats, The Xylom, Woman & Home, and The Detroit Free Press. To see what Crystal’s up to, you can follow her on Twitter @CrystalGwizdala.