Locals turn out by the thousands for four days of Victorian-theme events during a popular holiday weekend that lives up to its lofty reputation.
Manistee, Michigan’s Victorian Christmas weekend, now entering its 25th year, is an impressive display of community spirit. About 10,000 people participate in the annual festivities, nearly doubling the historical river town’s population over four days in early December. The largest draw is the Sleighbell Parade, a Saturday night event culminating with the lighting of two Christmas trees hauled down River Street by teams of draft horses, all to the delight of a roaring crowd. We didn’t find the parade particularly remarkable, but the crowd’s energy and enthusiasm definitely was. Thousands of people pack the streets, many sporting Victorian-Era hats, and more than a strong minority dressed in full head-to-toe period costume. These folks carry drinks, hoot and holler at one other, laugh, imbibe and celebrate. It’s not unlike Mardi Gras, only with far less debauchery and much colder.
At the First Congregational Church’s Lumberjack Lunch, we sat side-by-side with locals to enjoy a meal of classic beef stew. Belgian draft horses pull carriage rides all day, and Santa’s big arrival is a huge hit. There’s always something going on, from street performances to Ramsdell Theater tours to the citywide homemade soup cook-off. Every downtown storeowner dresses up and sets out treats, making even window-shopping feel like a celebration. Our best shopping experience, though, turned out to be the Sleighbell Craft Show and Bazaar at the high school, packed with more than 140 crafters. In all, these locals pump out enough holiday spirit for two towns, sustaining and cheering us long after we’d taken our leave.