New takes on familiar traditions highlight the holidays on Michigan’s Thumb Coast

The holiday season brings with it a different feel, a certain presence in the air. For generations, the traditions of the Christmas season have brought feelings of nostalgia, togetherness, and joy to many families.

One of these traditions is Christmas lights. Whether it be adorning homes or strung throughout the town, Christmas lights are a staple of the holiday. Several cities throughout the thumb area participate in light shows and parades for their communities. Marysville, Algonac, and Port Austin all partake in a lighted Christmas parade for spectators to enjoy during the winter holiday.

Marysville holds the annual tradition of Christmas in the Park, where lighted displays crafted by numerous local businesses are sprawled throughout the city’s park. At the top of the thumb in the city of Port Austin, a ceremonial night is enjoyed by all with the annual lighting of a Christmas tree at the Village Green. Farther down the thumb in the quaint city of Algonac, locals await the annual Christmas Tree Walk. Opened in 2004, a large log cabin welcomes visitors to view hundreds of ornately decorated trees. However, in light of COVID-19, the Christmas Tree Walk will only be open for select dates in December and January.

Algonac was not the only city to adapt their holiday traditions due to coronavirus-related restrictions. In Port Huron, nestled in the downtown area, a large Christmas tree is lit each year by the mayor in a night of celebration, but this year it was streamed online for a virtual spin on merriment. A drive-thru parade was held in Pine Grove Park in Port Huron. The adaptation of a drive-thru parade permitted viewers to enjoy the lights, strung across the park, from the safety of their own cars. And folks can still experience the spectacle in the park for the rest of the holiday season.

It is no secret that COVID-19 has interrupted countless facets of everyday life, forcing closures and cancelations across the country. With several cities halting their Christmas events for the year, it seems like this season would be lackluster. But, with the support of a dedicated community, modifications have been made to traditions held dear to the hearts of many in order to safely celebrate the holidays.

Starting something new in St. Clair

Traditions are a foundational part of every community. And this year, a new tradition is in the works.

The St. Clair Chamber of Commerce will be hosting the first ever Christmas Market in the Riverview Plaza. Taking place Friday, Dec. 11, through Sunday, Dec. 13, the Riverview Plaza will transform into a Christmas wonderland with local vendors lining the sidewalks to offer shopping and good eats for visitors.

“What we’re trying to do is bring back the old time feel,” Bryan Ulatowski, Chamber president says. With the options of festive photo-op displays and whimsical lights, Ulatowski hopes to create an old-fashion Christmas experience that appeals to all generations; for older residents, a harkening back to the simpler times, and for the community’s youth, a window into a time before their own.

Organizers of the Christmas Market recognize that this year will be a learning experience, for them as well as the event’s attendees. Participating vendors from the Plaza will be having festive specials all weekend as well as some specialty vendors coming in for the event.

“We have a few clothing vendors and some crafters and metal art coming in. We are trying to get more Christmas themes with what we are doing,” Ulatowski says.

Some of the local food and drink vendors include Anchor Point Bistro, Black & Bleu BBQ, Drifter’s, Mannina’s Winehouse, and War Water Brewery.

Keeping things festive — and safe

Even though the winter season is a time of celebration and togetherness, there are certain safety measures in place, and the Christmas Market is taking all necessary precautions to ensure all attendees have a fun time while staying safe. Ulatowski says that all vendors will be outside, with some tents available that will have open sides to allow for proper airflow. Attendees will be able to grab specialty food and drink from vendors and walk along the lighted riverfront, taking in the nostalgic and festive scenery. “We want to have more of a Bronner’s feel to the Christmas Market — where there is a little bit for everyone”.

Ulatowski says that the Chamber hopes the Christmas market will be as successful as their annual Halloween Stroll event, which he says has grown exponentially since first beginning. “It started as two days that turned into basically the whole month.”

Adding more local vendors as well as sleigh and carriage rides seems like a promising possibility for the new tradition of the Christmas Market.

Until then, Ulatowski is looking forward to the next upcoming winter event hosted by the St. Clair Chamber of Commerce: Ice Fest. Taking place in mid-January, the Ice Fest is another new event that will hopefully find a spot as a tradition in the Thumb area. The event will include ice sculptures and local vendors, as well as live ice-sculpting events through Riverview Plaza.
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