The Magic of Christmas • The 24th Annual Holidays in the Heart of the City & the 42nd Annual Christmas Parade

Posted In: Culture, ,   From Issue 887   By: Robert E Martin

30th October, 2019     0

There is no finer spectacle of 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 22nd  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 42nd  Annual Christmas Parade the next morning on Saturday, November 23rd  at 11 AM, featuring floats, marching bands, drill teams, costumed characters, and of course, a welcomed appearance by Santa to help kick things off.

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, this tireless duo 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.

“Our numbers are excellent,” states Jeanne. “Every year more people are finding out about these celebrations and we always have a good turnout. When the weather is most perfect thousands of people can be found everywhere and people waiting to get on the wagon rides find they can’t make it over to the lighting ceremony, so return to participate in different events the following year.”

“We have so much going on that most people can only make it to three events,” notes Kathy. “Last year’s count at the 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, and the churches involved that staged full concerts collectively drew another 2,000 people, plus the activities at the Japanese Tea House were full.”

“While this is the 42nd anniversary for the 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.  

While one of the biggest mistakes successful event celebrations often make is to attempt to reinvent the wheel by changing or altering the spotlight on the traditions they are showcasing, the Holidays in the Heart of the City celebration has remained steadfast and only improved with age. While the Ojibway Island Fireworks Display on Friday evening at 8:30 PM is undeniably one of the main events that ties Friday’s Holidays in the Heart of the City kick-off and Saturday’s Santa Parade together, there are several notable additions and modifications for this year’s celebration.

“This year we will have more food vendors on the street,” notes Jeanne. “The Snack Shack is coming back, The Waffle Hut is on board, as is El Farolito, TNT Concessions and Elephant Ears on the corner across from the Children’s’ Zoo. And Positive Results will be selling hotdogs donated by Old Town Drive-In. We appreciate that because a fundraiser, this revenue goes back into our events.  Plus, we have a couple more vendors we are awaiting confirmation.”

“As for musical events, there will be a free concert at 6:00 PM at Michigan Ave. Baptist Church featuring the Saginaw Area Concert Band; and at 7:15 PM the Valley Lutheran High School Golden Vocal Choir will be performing at Holy Family Church, with a prelude by Saginaw Strings, explains Kathy.  “Donations of new hats and gloves will be collected at the concerts. Some of the Saginaw Choral Society members will also be singing at the tree lighting ceremony and Pit & Balcony singes will be in front of the Children’s Zoo, which should liven things up and make them even more festive. Plus, we’ll be bringing the Living Nativity back in front of The Montague Inn.”

Other events include tours of the historic office Dr. Robert Cady, an Open House at The Mexican American Council with singers & Mexican treats, Free Admission to the Saginaw Children’s Zoo and $1.00 train and carousel rides, and the WSGW Cookie House Competition at the Andersen Enrichment Center, where participants can win a $100 Grand Prize in six 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 15.  Entry forms can be obtained by phoning 989.753.9168.

“We have six 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.

“We’ve also re-organized and placed organizations in different categories this year to make the competition a little fairer, and are getting more involvement with the competition so it’s looking like a good year. Plus, we’re also allowing people to begin with a starter kit if they are nervous about doing a cookie house, but we suggest they elaborate on that because originality is part of the judging criteria.”

And finally, this year a 25 foot LED Christmas Tree will be added to the lights at Morley Park to augment the wonderful display that was set up last year.  “We view Morley Plaza as the center of downtown and have received enough contributions to have at least eight more trees decorated in the Plaza, in addition to our new 25 foot showpiece.”

For the 42nd   Annual Christmas Parade that starts at 11:00 AM on Saturday, November 23rd, this year’s theme is The Night Before Christmas and the Grand Marshall will be Bill Giorges of Mike’s Wrecker.   “Bill has done a lot for the community and also involved himself heavily in Saginaw Area Fireworks over the years,” notes Jeanne.  Parade emcees will be Alana Holland & Chris Easlick of WNEM-TV5.

The route will be the same as last year and begin at the corner of Johnson & Washington Streets and go past Morley Plaza, where there will be a reviewing stand. “Santa will be there at 10:30 am and will give away a gift for the first 100 kids, plus Ezy Park on the corner of Washington & Johnson is donating their parking lot in the morning so people attending the parade can park there and walk down to Morley Plaza to see Santa and view the Parade.  We’ll be serving free hot chocolate and the parade route will go down to Ojibway Island.”

Other activities scheduled for Saturday after the parade include a free Christmas Party at the Castle Museum with Santa and Children’s’ activities from Noon to 4 PM; Free Christmas Stories & a Puppet Show at Hoyt Library at 2 PM; the Cookie House Competition continuing at the Andersen Enrichment Center, the Saginaw Farmer’s Market Holiday Market, which will also be at Andersen Enrichment Center from 10 AM to 1 PM, Holidays at the SVRC Marketplace from 10 AM to 1 PM, Old Town Saginaw Business Open Houses until 5 pm, a Holiday Craft Show at the Saginaw Arts & Sciences Academy from 10 AM to 4 PM, and the Saginaw Eddy Concert Band Christmas ‘Is the Season’ at The Temple Theatre, which begins at 7:30 PM.

“The Saginaw Career Complex under the direction of Allen Thompson is redesigning and adding more details to our Santa Float and rebuilding the Grand Marshal Float for the parade, which is also exciting,” notes Jeanne. “

Finally, for the 10th year, Girls on the Run Saginaw Bay will host a celebratory 5K open to men, women, community runners and walkers of all ages. Affectionately known as the “Reindeer Run”, more than 800 antlered participants will run, walk, and skip through streets of Downtown Saginaw thanks to presenting sponsor, Burt Watson.

The 5K leads the Positive Results Downtown Holiday Parade on Saturday, November 23. Participants will start at the Castle Museum (500 Federal Avenue, Saginaw) at 10:45am and finish at the Andersen Enrichment Center (120 Ezra Rust, Saginaw) where the finish line will greet them with a unique hand painted medal, hot chocolate, cookies, shopping at the Downtown Saginaw Farmer's Market winter market tent, a display of cookie houses, and a great front row view of the Holiday Parade. Shuttles are available after the run on a limited basis from finish to start.

The 5K is open to all community members and pre-registration is available online at until Thursday, November 21. For those registering before October 31, the cost to participate is $25 per individual and $30 after October 31. Discounts for families are available.

“This 5K highlights and exemplifies the joy of the Girls on the Run season, and the positive things happening in downtown Saginaw,” says Jen Naegele, Council Director for Girls on the Run Saginaw Bay. “This is a fun, family-friendly, festive event where community members of all ages convene in celebratory camaraderie. The positive energy is palpable, from the dancing at the start line to the clasped hands and hugs through the final arch. Amidst hundreds of sets of antlers, heartwarming finishes, and crackling energy, it is impossible to leave this event without a smile.”

Day-of registration will take place at the Castle Museum beginning at 9am on November 23 with music revving up the crowd before the 5K starts. Event organizers encourage participants to wear festive winter attire.  Opportunities for sponsorships and volunteers are available. Details available on the 5K website at

“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.”







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