Kicking Off the Holiday Season with HOLIDAYS IN THE HEART OF THE CITY

Back-to-Back Magic on Friday, Nov. 21 & Saturday, Nov. 22

Posted In:   From Issue 800   By: Robert E Martin

06th November, 2014     0

There is no finer fulcrum for kicking off the Christmas season than the annual PRIDE Holidays in the Heart of the City extravaganza, which over the expanse of 19 years now has evolved into a major regional celebration that now draws 20,000 people to the streets of Old Town, Downtown, and Ezra Rust Park Drive on the evening of Friday, November 21st. 

Followed by what will be the 37th Annual Christmas Parade on Saturday, November 22nd, together these events are emblematic of how diligent volunteer work coupled with generous sponsorship support can transform the community into a magical destination point glowing with the warmth of radiance and good-cheer.

For PRIDE Director Jeanne Conger and Holidays in the Heart of the City Chairwoman Kathy Reis, the joy of pulling this event together and watching it evolve over the years is worth the efforts of planning and coordinating that usually begin six months earlier back in May & June, when most people are eager to start hitting the beach.

“Everyone rally loves this event,” reflects Kathy, “and it amazes me that we still find people that are not aware of it. When we first started 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 – the Holidays in the Heart of the City Kick-off that begins at 5 PM on Friday, Nov. 21st; and then the Parade, which starts at 11:00 PM the next day and runs from Jefferson & East Genesse, turning south on S. Washington to Ezra Rust Blvd. and disbanding on Ojibway Island.”

“The Ojibway Island Fireworks display on Friday at 8:30 PM pulls it all together,” she continues. “Our budget has stayed stable and many foundations and sponsors have come forward to help us cover costs, so it’s gratifying that both our level of sponsorships and attendance have grown over the years.”

“When we started this, as Kathy notes, we did this loop from Downtown to Old Town, but people couldn’t be everywhere and see everything there is to do, so we decided to localize a majority of the Friday activities in Old Town and center the other activities downtown after the Parade on Saturday, because we realize people can’t be everywhere in one evening,” adds Jeanne. “People at the concerts might not be able to hit the zoo or the lighting ceremony, and if people get to three places and enjoy it, that’s good because they can pick and choose what they wish to participate in each year and do something different the next year.”

The City Lighting Ceremonies on November 21, start at 5:45 PM. Lights will go on at 6PM. Activities include free horse-drawn wagon rides, open houses, trolley rides over the Court Street Bridge, free concerts at Holy Family Church, St. John’s Episcopal Church and more The evening is topped with Fireworks at 8:30PM from Ojibway Island. The Pioneer Sugar & WSGW Cookie House Competition will take place at the Andersen Center.

Saturday, November 22, 2014, the 37th Annual Christmas Parade begins promptly at 11AM in Downtown Saginaw. This year’s theme is “Christmas Wonderland.” Viewers will enjoy marching bands, floats, costumed characters, drill teams, historical vehicles and more. The Frankenmuth Credit Union Reviewing Stand will be at the Downtown Saginaw Farmers’ Market (507 S. Washington) where free refreshments will be given out.

The Grand Marshall at this year’s parade is John Markey, owner of Absolute! Building Maintenance - a regional facilities maintenance company with offices in Downtown Saginaw. Absolute Building Maintenance is a long time sponsor of many area organizations and non-profits. Their support for our community ranges from PRIDE’s Friday Night Live, Saginaw Bay Symphony Orchestra, Saginaw Area Fireworks, Mid-Michigan Children’s Museum, the CAN Council, East Side Soup Kitchen, Saginaw Historical Museum and Covenant Healthcare Foundation.  John serves on the Downtown Saginaw Association, Saginaw Downtown Development Authority, the Saginaw-Bay Symphony Orchestra Board, Saginaw Arts and Enrichment Commission and PRIDE board of Directors. He has been a long-time support of the community.

Kathy says she is fortunate to have a committee of 15 to 20 committed volunteers that keeps growing each year. “Plus the Child Services Abuse & Neglect Council provides a lot of volunteers to mind the wagon rides, or light candles on the bridge. And we also have people at the churches that volunteer their time, so we’re in the hundreds of volunteers range when you consider the contributions from each of the venues.”

Both women agree that the re-invention and renovation of Downtown Saginaw has been a gratifying thing to witness. “It’s been a long time coming for Downtown Saginaw to get to this stage of transformation,” admits Jeanne. “Our biggest struggle is with people back from the ‘70s and ‘80s that have this idea of what Downtown Saginaw was during those years and still fight that stigma of what is safe. But once people attend this event and see all this wonderment and activity they leave with a totally different attitude and bring more people the next year, so it keeps multiplying.”

As a destination point the Holidays in the Heart of the City event draws people from Birch Run & Bay County and many regions outside of the City of Saginaw, and through the generous sponsorship of entities such as First Merit Bank, Pioneer Sugar, CMU, and foundations such as the Frank N. Andersen Foundation, the growth of this annual holiday kick-off is constantly evolving.

“People mistakenly think this is a city-sponsored event,” notes Jeanne, “but the city came to PRIDE years ago and said we can’t do this anymore, can you please take it over? People think we’re supported financially by the city, but we’re really not, other than the Water Treatment Plan participating with one of the events and the annual tree-lighting ceremony. It’s the sponsors, businesses, volunteers, and grants that we write that make this event happen.”

“This is a ‘feel-good’ event and we know what we have to do now each year,” concludes Kathy. “We’re always open to new ideas for something bigger & better and each year as more people get involved that seems to happen. Holy Cross joined us a few years ago on Court Street and last year they incorporated a competition in the schools for our Cookie Contest. The school that won got something special and then they went around with trays of cookies and gave them to people waiting to see Santa, so each year new people become involved with other people and it helps build the warmth and feeling. Everybody is singing a song or saying Merry Christmas on the streets and it’s definitely the kick-off for the holidays.”

Concludes  Jeanne: “We’re still taking applications for our Cookie House Competition and we’re also taking applications for the Christmas Parade. We set those up a week before the event, so it’s not too late for people to get involved. For those that haven’t experienced this event, they need to. You won’t believe it until you see it. And I’ve already put in an order for some warmer weather this year!”

Parade Applications and The Saginaw News Cookie House Competition forms are available on PRIDE’s website at or can be obtained by calling the PRIDE office at (989) 753-9168

Here’s a breakdown on the Holidays in the Heart of the City events for Friday, November 21st – all free to the public & their families!

  • Activities & Open Houses from Holy Family Church, South on Washington, Along Ezra Rust Drive to Old Town Saginaw.
  • Santa & Reindeer, Castle Museum Cookie Hut, and free pony rides at the Gazebo in Borchard Park in Old Town Saginaw.
  • Free Trolley Rides supported by CMU Global Campus.
  • Horse Drawn Wagon Rides sponsored by the Andersen Foundation until 8:15 PM.
  • The Pioneer Sugar/WSGW Cookie House Competition at the Andersen Enrichment Center.
  • Live Nativity/St. Mary’s of Michigan Seton Cove.
  • Free Admission to the Children’s Zoo.
  • Japanese Tea House, Montague Inn & Mexican American Council.
  • Activities in Old Town include window displays, bands, performers and business specials.
  • Holy Cross Lutheran Church – Hot Chocolate, caroling and ornament project.
  • 6:00 PM – Free Concert at St. John’s Episcopal Church
  • 7:15 PM • Free Concert at Holy family Church
  • 8:30 PM • Fireworks from Ojibway Island.

Saturday • November 22 • ‘Christmas Wonderland

  • Old Town Open Houses from 10 AM – 5 PM
  • 10:30 PM – Free Refreshments to parade viewers near the Frankenmuth Credit Union reviewing stand.
  • 10:55 AM • 5 K Girls on the Run Reindeer Run beginning at S. Jefferson and ending at the Andersen Center.
  • 37th Annual Christmas Parade • 11 PM
  • 12- 4 PM – Castle Museum – Free Christmas Party, Visit Santa
  • 12-2PM – Downtown Saginaw Farmer’s Market ‘Holiday Market at the Andersen Enrichment Center.
  • 11-2 PM • Pioneer Sugar/WSGW Cookie House Competition at the Andersen Center.
  • 2 PM – Hoyt Library featuring Christmas Stories & a Puppet Show
  • 6 PM – First Congregational Church – Christmas Remix – An Evening of Performing Arts


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