With the involvement and collective focus of over 20 community organizations, there is no finer fulcrum for kicking off the Christmas season than the annual Holidays in the Heart of the City extravaganza, which is coordinated through the passionate commitment of members that comprise Positive Results for Downtown Saginaw. Over the span of 20 years now this two-day celebration has evolved into a major regional showcase that now draws 20,000 people to Saginaw’s Old Town, Downtown, and Ezra Rust Park Drive districts for a jovial & glittering kick-off to the holiday season on the evening of Friday, November 20th.
Followed by what will be the 38th Annual Christmas Parade on Saturday, November 21, 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.
With the warmth of luminaries provided by The Saginaw Area Kiwanis Clubs lining the streets of Old town Saginaw and the bridge over Ezra Rust Drive, festivities begin with the Lighting Ceremony at the Water Treatment Plant, which begins at 5:45 PM. Food vendors populate the streets and from 5:30-8:30 pm the public can witness a Live Nativity presented by Bethlehem Lutheran Church, with live animals sponsored by St. Mary’s. Calligraphy & Origami is on display at the Japanese Tea House and The Montague Inn & Mexican-American Council; and free admission is available at the Children’s Zoo, with the Morse Telegraph Club transmitting Santagrams to the North Pole.
The Andersen Enrichment Center will hold their annual Cookie House Competition, sponsored by Chemical Bank & WSGW, along with the Downtown Saginaw Farmers’ Market ‘Holiday Market’; and Santa & Mrs. Claus will be on hand at Borchard Park in Old Town Saginaw, along with special performances by bands, free pony rides, live reindeer and Pit & Balcony Carolers. Live choral music can also be experienced at Holy Cross Lutheran Church with free horse drawn wagon rides on Ezra Rust and Complimentary Trolley rides over the Court St. Bridge, supported by CMU. Two special free concerts are scheduled from 6-7 PM at St. John’s Episcopal Church on N. Michigan featuring the Saginaw Area Concert Band and from 7:15-8:15 at Holy Family Church featuring The Valley Lutheran High School Golden Voice Choir and The Saginaw Choral Society, with a prelude by Saginaw Strings from 6:45-7:10 pm, with all of this activity culminating in the spectacular Fireworks Display from Ojibway Island at 8:30 PM.
The celebration continues on Saturday, November 21st with the annual Downtown Christmas Parade that kicks off at 11:00 AM and features floats, marching bands, drill teams, costume characters and more, all led by this year’s Parade Grand Marshall, Dr. Jack Nash. The route begins in downtown Saginaw traveling south on South Washington and will also feature a Girls on the Run 5k Reindeer Run, with registration happening at The Castle Museum at 9 AM, which will also feature a Free Christmas Party with Santa and Mrs. Claus in attendance. Additionally, The Hoyt Library will sponsor Free Christmas Stories & a Puppet Show, with the Cookie House Competition continuing at the Andersen Enrichment Center. There will also be a Potter Street Lighting Ceremony with free hot chocolate at 6:30 PM and a Saginaw Eddy Concert Band Christmas Performance at The Temple Theatre at 7:30 PM.
For Positive Results Director & Coordinator Jeanne Conger, the evolving success of this annual celebration is witnessed by its continual growth in attendance and support from business & community organizations. “We keep getting more people involved each year and every year a new group wants to join and support us. The amount of people attending keeps getting bigger and over the years we have found that with so much going on, people basically pick three things they can do because they can’t possibly do it all,” she explains. “Last year they may have went to one of the church concerts, which all fill up; and then they might hit the zoo and stop by the Japanese Gardens. The next year they may go to the Andersen Center and then one of the open houses, but each of the venues gives us their numbers, so we can monitor the growth. For example, the Children’s Zoo will say they had 3500 people come through, we might count 2400 at the Andersen Center, and know all the concerts & churches are full, so there’s another 1200 people. And those are just the venues we can count, but generally the nicer the weather is the better the attendance. In terms of new highlights featured this year, The Saginaw Area Queens will be performing along with a new up & coming star in Saginaw named Krista, who will be singing Christmas songs.”
“One thing we would like to generate is more people participating in the Cookie House Competition,” adds Jeanne. “The Andersen Center is always packed for that, but we have seven different categories in the competition and would like to reach more people. The artistic work these bakers do with these cookie houses is amazing. We get many entries from schools, but would like to see more families get involved. We also have a new sponsor for that this year with Chemical Bank teaming up with WSGW.”
For Parade Grand Marshall Jack Nash, “On Friday night this is the place to be. My own feeling is that many people come to simply see the architecture at the churches and experience the Old Town Environment. They like the friendliness and enjoy the horse rides, along with Santa & his live reindeer in the park grazing there while greeting kids. It’s an experience that literally takes you back into time.”
Nash was selected Grand Marshall because of the 13 years he has worked with both PRIDE, serving as its President for 3 years; and now Positive Results at fostering support for a better and more vibrant Saginaw community in many different capacities. But he also suspects that in reality the reason he was chosen is “because they know I have two beautiful dogs – Mojo & Sampson – that they want me to parade.”
“Saginaw & Midland are the only two cities with a holiday marching parade,” reflects Nash, “and ironically, I was actually in the very first Christmas Parade held here in Saginaw 38 years ago, back when they were starting up the Friendship Games. They decided that we needed to have a mascot, so consequently I got rustled into being dressed up as an octopus, standing on top of a float with a bunch of arms waving at people. In fact, I still have a nice plaque that I received for that endeavor.”
“That’s not so different from what he has to do this time,” quips Jeanne. “But seriously, his job as Grand Marshall is to oversee the Parade, and Jack has lots of experience at doing that. He’s been managing the Memorial Parade for the last 7 years and has to mark off where the entries go, along with starting the parade and stopping it. Because the highway needs to be shut down to hold the parade, you can only do it for so long.”
“These events are done totally with funds derived from Positive Results,” emphasizes Jeanne. “We raise the money and get the volunteers and put this together all for the City of Saginaw. We’re in our 10th year now with the current format, and in earlier years when we took over the Christmas Lighting Ceremony, we tried to stage things in both Old Town & Downtown, but it was far too massive and difficult for people to get everywhere, so now we break it up and schedule events in Old Town & Celebration Square on Friday Night and then the following Saturday on Parade Day, events are localized downtown.”
“I’m impressed with the new businesses coming together and with the number of new establishments opening over the last 24 months throughout the Old Town & Downtown areas,” concludes Nash. Recently The Bancroft sponsored a Wine Run that drew 500 people and you couldn’t find a parking place around the entire block, so a lot of good things are happening.”
“With Holidays in the Heart of the City and the Christmas Parade, you realize that Saginaw is indeed a true community because this is a multi-ethnic event. You see people form every socio-economic circle gathering together to celebrate the holidays, which is pretty amazing and very fitting given the season.”