Holiday Magic on Main Street: Highlights from 2012

Posted on: January 3rd, 2013 by National Trust for Historic Preservation

Big Bright Light Show, Rochester, Michigan. Credit: Brad Ziegler
Big, Bright Light Show in Rochester, Michigan.

As everyone trickles back to work this week, we find ourselves already nostalgic about the holiday magic that brought Main Streets across the country alive during this festive season. In today's post (adapted from Conan Cheong's Main Street Story of the Week) we look at the downtowns and neighborhood commercial districts that gathered revelers together to enjoy light shows, caroling, and special shopping experiences with local merchants.

Here are some of the highlights:

Living Windows in Ripon, Wisconsin

Dickens of a Christmas Living Windows Display, Ripon, WI. Credit: PT Price

Christmas shopping can be a chore—standing elbow to elbow with frantic shoppers sweeping shelves of last-minute gifts. Not in Ripon, Wisconsin, though, where you can shop to your heart’s content while being entertained by talented performers right in the store windows. As part of their Dickens of a Christmas festival, Ripon’s Living Windows this year featured a barbershop quartet, a blacksmith, singing puppets, and more. On the evening of November 30th, 30 downtown businesses put up living displays in 35 windows to re-enact Victorian life in the 19th century.

“We had a list of ideas, but I was very impressed by how creative people were in putting together displays that pertained to their businesses,” said Paula Price, director of the Ripon Chamber of Commerce. A jewelry store did a re-enactment of the California Gold Rush, with kids panning for gold. The League of Women’s Voters portrayed women’s suffrage, and a restaurant highlighted the invention of soda water in 1832. With fine weather that evening, they had an awesome turnout, with at least 3,000 people strolling about the downtown.

Happy Holidays in New Hampshire

Midnight Merriment, Concord, NH. Credit: Becky Kinhan

Main Street Senior Program Officer Kathy LaPlante sent us a couple of her top holiday picks from New Hampshire. Midnight Merriment, a 20-year-old event in Concord, is a downtown shopping extravaganza where Concord’s local businesses go all out to draw customers into their stores, with discount specials, refreshments, and lavish decorations on their historic buildings.

Other highlights organized by the Concord Main Street program to entice families downtown include the Winter Giftopolis, a one-night-only arts and crafts market with more than 20 vendors, storytelling events at a 19th-century Victorian mansion, roving caroling groups, and the chance to both send letters to and meet Santa and his elves.

Forty miles south, in the city of Nashua, the annual Winter Holiday Stroll, held on Nov 24th, began with a candlelight procession up Main Street to the city’s official tree-lighting ceremony in Railroad Square. Most of downtown is closed to traffic for this evening event, and strollers can walk leisurely and enjoy food from street vendors, musicians, and other entertainers as they make their way to the Christmas tree.

Stockyards City Cowboy Christmas Parade, Oklahoma City, Oklahoma

Stockyards City Christmas Parade, Oklahoma. Credit: Paul Hellstern

Stockyard City’s Cowboy Christmas Parade has been going on for so many years that Cookie Hill, director of Stockyards City Main Street, can never get anyone to give her a specific starting date. The annual parade, held on December 1st this year, kicked off with a cattle drive of Texas Longhorns, a breed deeply rooted in Stockyard City’s pioneer history. The city’s Oklahoma National Stockyards, founded in 1910, remains the largest cattle market in the world.

“In the past, the cattle used to be led into the city by cowboys, now they bring them in by the truckload,” says Hill. But a team of real cowboys still herd the longhorns through the city, along with the Grand Marshall’s horseback posse headed by the local sheriff. With almost five thousand people turning out to watch a total of 61 entries in the parade, Cookie said this year’s was the biggest parade they’ve ever had.

Other highlights included all kinds of equestrians, from drill teams to rodeo people and roundup clubs; Howdy and Slim, two 1,500-pound longhorns that take passengers; miniature horses pulling little carts; llamas bedecked in festive bells; and even a Cowboy Santa who gave every child in the crowd a toy from his wagon.

The Big, Bright Light Show, Rochester, Michigan

The Big, Bright Light Show was created seven years ago, in 2005, says Rochester DDA Executive Director Kristi Trevarrow, in an effort to attract people downtown and put Rochester on the map for the holidays. It started with 500,000 LED (light-emitting diode) holiday lights that blanketed four blocks of Downtown Rochester's Main Street, with more than a million visitors finding their way to Downtown Rochester during the 35 days of the show.

In 2007, the show was expanded to include one million lights covering eight blocks of Main Street and several side streets, while new event areas on the east and west sides of downtown drew traffic to off-Main Street businesses. The new events included the Snowflake Spectacular, a dazzling display of 60 giant snowflakes that flash to the beat of holiday music every 15 minutes; Candy Cane Lane, featuring larger-than-life animated displays of giant toys; and the Dancing Tree of Lights, with every inch of the traditional Christmas tree is wrapped with holiday lights that "dance" in sync to music.

"Since the beginning of the show, we have been overwhelmed by the letters, e-mails, and phone calls from residents, visitors, and merchants," says Trevarrow. "Some say we have restored their holiday spirit; others say how proud they are to live in Rochester. Most importantly, people have taken ownership of both the event and the downtown.

"It’s come to the point now where it’s become a holiday tradition. People know now that they are going to make the trip to Rochester to see the lights, and that’s exactly what our intention was, so we are pretty excited about that.”

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