Even those of us who hate the cold have a warm spot in our hearts for sparkly lights. When elegant white strands or exuberant loops of color appear downtown and in our neighborhoods, they beat back dark nights.
Thanksgiving kicks off a week of merriment in the West Michigan lakeshore region, with some twinkling events following later in December — from tree lightings that have been a tradition for years to events of more recent vintage. A new bright light on our stretch of the lakeshore will be the debut of Magic at the Mill, a ticketed event at Holland’s Windmill Island Gardens, a centerpiece of the city’s spring Tulip Time festival. Sustaining that theme, a thousand LED tulips were “planted” in October in a grassy field, and they’ll put on a synchronized light and music show. Capping the holiday season: free fireworks at the Grand Haven waterfront just past midnight as 2023 begins.
So break out your most festive scarf and winter cap and head outdoors to enjoy brightly lit community celebrations from late November through the New Year — in your own town and neighboring ones. Here’s the lowdown on nine opportunities.
Spring Lake kicks off its Sparkle Festival at 2 p.m. the day after Thanksgiving and keeps the lights on until January 3, 2023. Will 120,000 multi-colored lights do the trick? Why, yes. Strung in trees and in strikingly modern blocks of color, they dress up Savidge Street downtown. After oohing and aahing, you can head for a food court or enjoy a drink at Santa’s Workshop. Santa will visit with children at times posted on the event Facebook page.
How many towns light a holiday star 800 feet up a forested sand dune? We suspect Saugatuck has this market sewed up. At ground level, across the Kalamazoo River, the good people of Saugatuck light a tree at the same time. Folks will gather at the riverfront Wicks Park Gazebo on Water Street starting at 5 p.m. to share countdown fun till 6 p.m. Nearby, Santa and his reindeer will be available for photos and chats starting at 3 p.m.
A city park at the heart of a historic district is a picturesque spot to gather and celebrate. Festivities start at 4 p.m. in Muskegon’s Hackley Park, which will be decked out for the season, and at dusk (around 5:30) the traditional Christmas Tree Lighting will take place. Hot chocolate, food vendors — and once the tree is lit, photo ops with Santa and his reindeer.
To borrow a phrase from Friends, this is the one with the tubas. A brief tuba concert is first on the schedule for Zeeland’s holiday season launch; they’ll play at 5:30 p.m. near City Hall. Zeeland lights its tree next, at 6:15 at the Splash Pad at the corner of Elm and East Main St. and then launches the annual Magical Christmas Parade at 6:30 that piles on more lights.
Holland’s downtown Parade of Lights is a holiday tradition, right down to Santa bringing up the rear. Antique cars and marching bands join vehicles and floats lit up like . . . well, like Christmas trees. Might you still have some July 4 glow necklaces in the trunk? — fish them out, put them on and you’ll fit right in. The parade starts at 6:30 p.m. at the corner of 8th Street and Columbia Avenue and proceeds west on 8th to the Holland Civic Center and the holiday Kerstmarkt.
New this year at Holland’s Windmill Island Gardens: Magic at the Mill, a ticketed holiday lights event. The city park’s windmill, village and grounds will be decorated with lights. A synchronized light and music show featuring a thousand LED tulips will loop all evening. The event runs from 5 to 9 p.m. and repeats on December 3, 9, 10, 16 and 17. Sinterklaas, the Dutch Santa, will not visit Windmill Island on Dec. 2 (he’ll be busy downtown at the Sinterklaas Eve celebration) but will be on hand for two hours on each of the other dates. Online sale of timed tickets has begun.
East of Windmill Island Gardens, Holland’s municipal electric plant off 8th Street will be lit up, too, starting November 22. Walk the trail around Holland Energy Park to experience the festive display up close starting at twilight daily. Visitor parking is located off Fairbanks Avenue.
Grand Haven’sJingle Bell Parade sets off at 6 p.m. from Franklin Avenue with many floats festooned with lights. People start arriving around 4 p.m. to stake out a good spot on a sidewalk. Among the parade participants are Santa and Mrs. Claus, who’ll be in a horse-drawn sleigh. When the parade reaches Central Park, spectators gather for a tree-lighting there and the Salvation Army serves hot chocolate — all in keeping with downtown Grand Haven’s “classic Christmas” vibe.
Less glitz, more glow: Hemlock Crossing County Park in West Olive will host a free, family-friendly Holiday Luminary Event from 5 to 7 p.m., with decorated trees and other lights at the park’s Nature Center and some other park features. Expect treats and a nature-focused activity for kids; last year, volunteers helped young guests make pinecone birdfeeders. More than 200 people enjoyed an outdoor holiday luminary walk through the meadow trails in 2021.
New Year’s Eve fireworks in Grand Haven: For the final bright lights of 2022, what could beat that? Whether you celebrated the waning hours of the year in the city’s downtown social district or cozy at home, join the crowd on Washington Avenue near the riverfront for a midnight ball drop followed by free fireworks to mark the opening minutes of 2023.