If nothing else, the Christmas Holiday Season is that one time of the year where expectations run high and happiness is more often than not produced through the miraculous possibilities generated when individuals make connections with one another throughout their community.
So when it comes to creating Christmas Miracles, there is no finer vehicle for kicking off the holiday season than the annual Holidays in the Heart of the City & Christmas Parade extravaganzas, which this year will start on the evening of Friday, November 19th at 5:45 pm with the Lighting Ceremony at the Saginaw Water Treatment Plan, and conclude with the 8:30 PM Fireworks Display from Ojibway Island, followed by the 44th Annual Christmas Parade the next morning on Saturday, November 20th at 11:00 AM, featuring floats, marching bands, clowns, antique cars, costumed characters, historical units, and of course, a welcomed appearance by Santa Claus himself to set the tone for the season!
Thanks to the efforts of Holiday’s Chairwoman Kathy Reis, who has filled that role since 2001, along with Jeanne Conger, Director of Positive Results for Downtown Saginaw, along with Parade Chairman Chuck Priem and his daughter Emma Priem, this committed collective of volunteers has garnered the support of well over 20 community organizations and caused these back-to-back events to draw an average of 20,000 people to Saginaw’s Old Town District, Downtown Saginaw, and Ezra Rust Park Drive for this glittering celebration of our community and its resources.
Seeing as the Grinch called COVID put a damper on the holidays last year by pulling the rug out from under these two legacy community events, anticipation is running high. “We’re so happy to be back this year and disappointed that we had to cancel last year, but everybody is very happy to have these events return to kick off the holiday season and bring hope and happiness back to our community,” enthuses Kathy Reis.
“We have so much going on that most people can only make it to three events,” notes Kathy. “If you look at our numbers from 2018 & 2019, the count at the Children’s Zoo involved 4,500 people attending, which was a 1000 increase from the previous year; and the activities at the Andersen Center drew another 3,000. Plus, the churches involved that staged full concerts collectively drew another 2,000 people, and the activities at the Japanese Tea House were full.”
“While this year marks the 44th anniversary for the Christmas Parade, when we first started “Holidays in the Heart of the City” it was with the Festival of Lights and we had people traveling down Washington, Genesee, and Michigan in a big loop, but in 1996 decided to condense it to a walkable area of closed off streets between Court and over the bridge to Ezra Rust and split it into two events,” relates Jeanne
This year’s itinerary for Holidays in the Heart of the City begins with the Holiday Lighting Ceremony at the Water Treatment Plant at 5:45 PM and continues until 8:30 PM with the Fireworks at Ojibway island. Activities and Open Houses from Holy Family Church will be held south on Washington along Ezra Rust Drive up to Old Town Saginaw.
Santa and his reindeer will be on hand at the Gazebo in Borchard Park in Old Town Saginaw, and the Saginaw Castle Museum will feature their Cookie Hut, plus free pony rides will take place from Borchard Park around town, with free transportation across the Court St. Bridge provided by First Student.
Horse Drawn Wagon Rides sponsored by the Frank N. Andersen Foundation begin at the Andersen Enrichment Center and travel along Ezra Rust Drive until 8:00 PM; and the HAP/WSGW Cookie House Competition will take place at the Andersen Enrichment Center, along with the Down Saginaw Farmer’s Market ‘Holiday Market’.
Open House & Live Nativity will happen at the Montague Inn and there will be Free Admission to the Saginaw Children’s Zoo, with a fee for riding the carousel and train .Activities are scheduled for the Japanese Tea House, Mexican American Council, and Grove Dental Group, with Holy Cross Lutheran Church offering free music on the porch and indoors along with free cookies and hot chocolate.
“Something new that we are featuring this year is that the Saginaw Area Concert Band will be performing at The Court Theatre from 6:00 - 7:00 PM, so we are very happy to have them involved this year,” notes Jeanne.
The WSGW Cookie House Competition at the Andersen Enrichment Center is free to enter and offers an opportunity for participants to win a $100 Grand Prize in seven different categories ranging from Elementary, Middle & High School to Family organizations, business, and Professional divisions.
Entries are judged on originality, presentation, workmanship and composition; and all applications must be received by Friday, November 12. Entry forms can be obtained by phoning 989.753.9168 or by downloading the form available on www.prideinsaginaw.org.
“We have seven different categories with $100 price money in each category plus a plaque, so this is an excellent team building project for businesses to become involved with. We would really like to see more cookie houses and are still accepting applications up to about a week before the event,” notes Jeanne.
For the 44th Annual Christmas Parade the following day on Saturday, November 20th, the Grand Marshall will be Lt. Harry Davis, who is a retired commander from the Saginaw Police Reserves Unit.
“Santa will be greeting everyone at Morley Plaza in Downtown Saginaw from 10:30 to 10:55 AM and then the parade will start at 11:00 AM,” explains Emma. “There will be free parking at Ezy Park from 8:00 AM until 2:00 PM and a reviewing stand will also be set up at Morley Plaza, with free hot chocolate and little gifts.”
The Parade Route will begin at the corner of Johnson & North Washington Streets, continuing South on Washington to Ezra Rust Boulevard and disbanding at Ojibway Island. “Parade participants should check in at 8:30 AM so they can get all set up and the check-in will be at Jefferson & Genesee,” explains Chuck. “Participants will be given plaque cards they will take so they can be moved into position and the judging will start at 10:00 AM, with plenty of awards available. We want all participants ready to move forward so we don’t have large gaps in the parade line-up.”
According to Chuck, the committee is still receiving entries on floats and the deadline for entries will be November 12th. There is a $40.00 fee to enter the parade after October 30th and people can enter the parade by contacting Positive Results in Downtown Saginaw or visiting their website.
“We have two main floats - the Santa Float and the Grand Marshall Float - that is sponsored by McDonald Cadillac GMC, who have always been supportive of this annual tradition,” notes Jeanne. “Plus, this year we are going to have two police scooters to assist with filling gaps between the performing bands when they stop to play. This way the reserves can contact the floats ahead and eliminate any gaps in the parade. Every business that participates in the parade gets a participation ribbon and we will have lots of parking available on the route along South Washington. People need to remember we start closing the roads at 10:00 AM.”
“This year we have Arthur Hill & Saginaw High performing as a combined marching band and then Heritage High School Band has also signed up, plus the Saginaw Arts & Sciences Academy has 14 volunteers who have signed up as elves to pass out candy canes and go along with Santa on the parade route. People are welcome to give candy out, but we ask that they distribute by candy bowling where you roll it to the curb instead of tossing it in the air so we don’t have kids running into the street.”
Other activities scheduled for Saturday include Old Town Saginaw Open Houses from 10:00 AM - 5:00 PM, a Makers Market at the SVRC Marketplace, along with the Downtown Saginaw Farmer’s Market ‘Holiday Market at the Andersen Enrichment Center from 10:00 am - 1:00 PM; the HAP/WSGW Cookie House Competition at the Andersen Enrichment Center from 10:00 am - 1:00 PM; and Holiday Bingo at the Hoyt Library from 2:00 - 3:00 PM.
“It is very gratifying to work at bringing so many different groups and sponsors together for this special annual holiday celebration,” concludes Kathy Ries. “This is truly a multi-cultural and multi-ethnic event that draws thousands of people from throughout the state of Michigan together to celebrate the spirit of the season with such a glittering array of seasonal events and talent. It lights that ember of the holiday glow and is a magnificent way to truly ignite the holiday spirit.”