WRITER | LISA BECKER CAMPBELL
Manistee is magical at Christmastime.
Downtown Manistee, which is a national and state Historic District, presents its annual Victorian Sleighbell Parade and Old Christmas Weekend December 6-9.
The Victorian Sleighbell Parade, the most memorable holiday tradition of the weekend, takes place December 8. This year marks the parade’s 30th anniversary. It was started by just a handful of local business owners and has become an homage to the heritage of this port city as it proceeds amid the ornate, beautifully decorated buildings that line River Street.
The parade’s most stunning feature is a 30-foot Christmas tree pulled upright by a beautiful horse team. Other festive participants include horse-drawn carriages, turn-of-the-century characters, an elf on stilts, bell ringers, high school marching bands, a German organ player, brass bands, and several bagpipers. It concludes with Christmas caroling and the lighting of the tree.
Other family-favorite Old Christmas Weekend festivities are Santa Headquarters and complimentary downtown carriage rides drawn by teams of Percherons and Clydesdale-Hackney-Pony crosses. Santa Headquarters has balloon artists and face painting, always a hit with children. A tradition for many is getting piping hot roasted chestnuts at one of four stations on River Street, according to Rachel Brooks, chairman of the Victorian Sleighbell Parade and Old Christmas Weekend.
The weekend also includes a fireworks display, a Festival of Trees, and tours of some of Manistee’s impressive Victorian homes and buildings: Buckley Home, the James Dempsey Manor, the Ramsdell Theatre, and Vogue Theatre.
“The Victorian Sleighbell Parade and Old Christmas Weekend is always a wonderful time of the year for residents and visitors alike to get in the Christmas spirit and enjoy the parade,” according to Mark Fedder, executive director of the Manistee County Historical Museum. “As one of the premier historical destinations in Northwest Michigan, we think it’s wonderful that so many people turn out for a unique event that honors the past.”
The Museum is located in the historic downtown Lyman Building and presents an elaborate exhibit at the end of the year in partnership with the Victorian Sleighbell Parade and Old Christmas Weekend. Exhibits explore Christmas through various eras while incorporating aspects of Manistee’s rich history.
The city is filled with beautiful Victorian architecture, and the downtown is located on the National Register of Historic Places. Historic River Street follows the winding Manistee River all the way to Lake Michigan and is home to specialty boutiques, antique stores, gift shops, restaurants, and bakeries.
In addition to cultural venues, holiday events, and shopping and dining, Manistee offers extensive recreational opportunities such as ice fishing along the snow-covered shoreline and snowmobiling among thousands of acres of nearby Manistee National Forest. The city is centrally located to a more than 250-mile network of snowmobile trails that winds through Manistee, Benzie, Wexford, and Lake Counties. Lodging is available along the trails.
There are also plenty of opportunities for snowshoeing and cross-country skiing, with many National Forest and county trails groomed for both. Alpine and downhill skiing are within a quick drive to Caberfae Peaks in Cadillac and Crystal Mountain in Thompsonville.
Following an outdoor excursion, return to the quaint city of Manistee to warm up with food, drink, and general merriment this winter!
City of Manistee 294 River Street, Suite 2, Manistee MI 49660 l 231-398-9355 l ManisteeMI.gov