Dowagiac’s Old-Fashioned Christmas Celebration opens Nov. 21

Published 9:22 am Monday, November 10, 2008

By Staff
The soft whispers of children, soon to be seated beside this community's Old-World Santa, along with favorite holiday classics presented beneath the Haggin-Wimberley Bandstand and the distant clickity-clack of horse-drawn carriage tours will soon set the stage for Dowagiac's Old-Fashioned Christmas Celebration that opens Friday, Nov. 21.
The two-part yuletide celebration, presented by the Greater Dowagiac Chamber of Commerce and Borgess-Lee Memorial Hospital, kicks off the holiday season with Christmas Open House Weekend, Nov. 21-23, and continues Friday, Dec. 5, as an expected 100-unit Candle-light Parade takes to the streets.
New this year, the Christmas Open House event has been expanded to the full weekend, as participating shop owners present their finest in holiday merchandise, when doors open Friday morning at 9.
Business hours at participating locations throughout the community will also be extended until 7 p.m. Friday evening, as shops open Sunday, Nov. 23, from noon to 4 p.m.
Store hours on Saturday are normal for most locations, from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.
"Borgess-Lee Memorial Hospital and the Chamber of Commerce, as the host of the 2008 celebration, along with our five corporate sponsors, invite families and friends to enjoy our Grand Old City during the upcoming yuletide season," said Vickie Phillipson, program director of the Chamber of Commerce and Downtown Development Authority (DDA), who coordinates the celebration.
In addition to the hospital, proud corporate sponsors of the event's Nov. 21-23 Christmas Open House Weekend and Dec. 5 Candle-light Parade Night are: Matthew Cripe Dental, P.C.; Dr. Charles Burling and Dr. Jon Gillesby; Family Fare and Spartan Stores; Williams A-1 Expert Tree Service; and Dowagiac Area Federal Credit Union.
Reminiscent of the role the historic Dowagiac train depot played in the early development of the community, this year's celebration features a new marketing look, built around a bright red and green train that organizers are calling "The Holiday Express."
Phillipson said beginning Friday morning, Nov. 21, shoppers will have the opportunity that weekend to participate in the new Holiday Express Scavenger Hunt and enter the annual Christmas drawing at participating locations, where Holiday Express signage is on display.
The two retail events will award more than $300 in Universal Dowagiac Gift Certificates to patrons that weekend.
Participating sites are: Booth's Country Florist, Caruso's Candy Kitchen, Front Street Winery, Imperial Furniture, Laurie Anne's, The Marshall Shoppe, Underwood Shoes, Vincent J. Jewelers, Who Knew? Consignment and The Wren's Nest.
The lead character of the Dowagiac celebration, which features an array of downtown activities for families on Saturday, Nov. 22, is a Victorian, Old-World Santa.
Hailing from his Sinterklaus Farm in Berrien Springs, for the past several years this Jolly Ol' St. Nick has captivated the hearts of both wide-eyed children and adults.
Parents are encouraged to bring their cameras to Beckwith Park, where they can take pictures of their children seated alongside Santa in a beautiful white carriage, owned by Jack and Barb Fryman of Dowagiac.
The Victorian-era Santa will greet youngsters on Saturday from 10:30 a.m. to 3:30 p.m.
"Indeed, organizers are as delighted as youngsters will be to have this beautiful carriage available to us for pictures, as it sets the stage for an afternoon straight out of a storybook," Phillipson said.
"When Dick Schinkel, who portrays our Old-World Santa, appeared at the Beckwith Park last November, draped in his burgundy cape, complete with wool fleece lining and trim, brocaded vest and knickers, people of all ages marveled at his striking, true-to-character appearance.
"Children will delight at meeting this rosy-cheeked ol' gentleman, as they receive a free coloring book, courtesy of our corporate sponsors."
Phillipson initiated the distribution of the complimentary Christmas gifts in 1999 as a means for the host organization and its corporate sponsors to provide something special for area youngsters.
Children who attend Open House Saturday can also sign up to win one of the two Giant Christmas Baskets, towering three feet tall, that will be awarded to a boy and girl, filled with toys and candy, and topped by a plush white Teddy bear.
Winners of the gift baskets will appear in the Dec. 5 Candle-light Christmas Parade, as they accompany St. Nick, as he travels the parade route in his three-seat carriage.
Miss Dowagiac Lori Key and her court will be on hand Open House Saturday to help children sign up for the drawing.
Children can also join Miss Dowagiac for a Holiday Storytime and Crafts Workshop, co-sponsored by Dowagiac District Library and the Chamber's Miss Dowagiac Scholarship Pageant.
The interactive workshop, coordinated by library personnel Alma Adams and Mary Cochrane, will be held on Saturday, from 11 to 2 p.m.
The children's event, which is open to the public free of charge, will be staged at Who Knew? Consignment, located across the street from the gazebo at Front and Beeson streets.
Children will also enjoy meeting Holly, a reindeer of Alaskan decent that will be on display from 10:30 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. at Beckwith Park.
Her owners, Carrie and Joshua Brueck of Country Reindeer Farm, said Holly was born in April 2006 and joined their Centreville farm the following month. The Bruecks bottle fed the young reindeer until she was 4 months old. Holly joined the Dowagiac celebration last year and has since completed training to pull a small pony cart, as she prepares to someday pull a sleigh.
Also returning for Dowagiac's Christmas celebration is Anna Wilinski of Clash's K-Zoo Party Crew of Kalamazoo, who will bring the magic of Christmas to life through balloon-tied candy canes and Rudolph's red nose.
The children's performer, who portrays one of Santa's elves, from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. will tie red and white balloons in the shape of giant candy canes youngsters can take home with them, courtesy of the celebration's corporate sponsors.
For a nominal fee, families can also tour the Grand Old City by horse-drawn carriage.
Phillipson said the horse-drawn tour, which starts on Beeson Street, will be presented by John and Pat Touse of Constantine, who own Happy Tales Pet Resort.
Carriage rides will be presented Saturday from 10:30 a.m. to 3:30 p.m.
Craft show
and retail
open houses
Craft enthusiasts on Saturday will want to attend the 12th annual arts and crafts show, sponsored by Theta Mu of Beta Sigma Phi Sorority, which will be held from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. at Dowagiac Union High School on W. Prairie Ronde.
The hand-made works of 30 to 40 craftsmen will be featured, including holiday and dried florals, embroidered novelty apparel and hand-crafted wooded pieces.
Christmas Open Houses at Dowagiac's specialty stores continue Saturday from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. and on Sunday from noon to 4 p.m., as shopkeepers each day add something new.
For those who tire easily, distinctive dining and even an old-fashioned soda fountain provide the perfect spot downtown to rest awhile.
During Open House Weekend, every time a holiday shopper makes a purchase at a participating store, they can sign up to win $225 in Universal Dowagiac Gift Certificates.
The holiday drawing will award $25 gift cards to nine winners.
Patrons can register for the drawing at each of the Open House locations where the "Holiday Express" signage is displayed.
The musicians of About Time, under the direction of Tim King of Berrien Springs, on Saturday will fill the air with holiday classics, performing beneath the Haggin-Wimberley Bandstand from 10:30 a.m. to 3:30 p.m.
Back-to-back dance performances on Saturday will be presented from 12:30 to 1:30 p.m. on Beeson Street, featuring students of Positively Dance and Encore Dance Company.
While outdoor activities for families at Beckwith Park conclude Saturday at 3:30 p.m., on Sunday instrumental solos, presented by Southwestern Michigan College music students at select retail locations, are sure to set the perfect mood for holiday shopping.
Beckwith Park performances on Sunday feature First United Methodist Church Six Ringers at 12:30 and choir students from Dowagiac Union Schools, under the direction of Jeff Robinson, at 1:30 p.m.
Holiday foods
Samples of European-styled mulled wine and cider will be served throughout much of Open House Weekend by Front Street Winery, as many shopkeepers greet patrons with complimentary hors d'oeuvres.
On Saturday families visiting Beckwith Park can also savor the sweetness of Caruso's candy or warm up with hot chocolate and coffee.
loved ones
While at Beckwith Park, families on Saturday can purchase ribbons to decorate the Tree of Remembrance, as they pay homage to a loved one.
Volunteers of Hospice Care of Southwestern Michigan will be on site from 10:30 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. on Saturday.
During the Dec. 5th parade, Hospice volunteers begin selling memorial ribbons at 6:30 p.m.
Funds earned by Hospice enables the organization to continue its support of the terminally ill and their families, while also benefiting the Bereavement Program.
Hospice bows will be on sale throughout the season at the Chamber of Commerce and Downtown Development Authority (DDA) offices, located in the historic Dowagiac Train Depot; and at The Hairitage, The Marshall Shoppe and Dowagiac Area Federal Credit Union.
Parade night
Dowagiac's Old-Fashioned Christmas Celebration continues Friday, Dec. 5, as its Candle-light Christmas Parade steps off at Main and Front streets in the downtown at 7:30 p.m.
While awaiting that evening's parade pageantry, beginning at 6:30 p.m. families can warm up with hot chocolate, served at the sidewalk booth of Caruso's Candy Kitchen or from Cass County Cancer Service student and adult volunteers, who will be staffed out of Dowagiac City Hall beginning at 5 p.m.
Throughout the parade, volunteers will roam the sidewalks with warm refreshments.
That evening, adults can also sample Front Street Winery's mulled wine.
Courtesy of the celebration's corporate sponsors, holiday cheer and free candy canes will be distributed in Victorian style by a Town Crier, dressed in traditional top hat and black coattails, as he mingles with passersby on the sidewalk, beginning at 6:30 p.m.
Pre-parade entertainment opens at 7 p.m. as the Dogwood Chorale performs atop the Master of Ceremonies viewing stage, in front of Beckwith Park from 7 to 7:30 p.m.
The Old-World Victorian Santa is the featured attraction of the 7:30 p.m. parade.
Proudly presented by Borgess-Lee Memorial Hospital and the Chamber of Commerce, the event is said to be southwestern Michigan's largest lighted Christmas parade of 100 motorized and marching units.
Groups still wanting to enter the Dec. 5 parade should contact the Chamber of Commerce at (269) 782-8212 for an application or to receive a holiday schedule of events.