T’Was the Week Before Christmas

We are heading into the last week before Christmas. It is a hectic time for many as Christmas shopping still has to get done or the presents have to be wrapped. Many of us are attending or hosting Christmas parties. The last week before Christmas can be a stressful time, but it doesn’t have to be. When my wife and I first got married we were constantly on the go. We were in a constant state of stress because we had to make sure presents were bought and wrapped, travel back and forth across the state, and looking for some time to ourselves. Over time that situation has straightened itself out, but there are still many out there going through what we went through during the holiday season.

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Recently an injury has forced me to slow down a little bit, but I also have learned a few tricks or two over the past few years that have really helped me appreciate the week leading up to Christmas. Slowing things down a bit does not mean you have to stop working, stop enjoying Christmas parties or not enjoy time with family. It is quite the opposite from that. I have come to appreciate time with loved ones. Often this is something that gets taken for granted. Make every minute count when it comes to spending times with your loved ones. Presents and gifts are great when it comes to Christmas, but memories will last much longer. If you look back to previous years it is hard to remember what you got for Christmas, but often you will be able to recall a family Christmas outing, a special Christmas event spent with a spouse, and general fun times that were created as a result of spending time with loved ones. Try to get Christmas shopping done early. This year, my wife and I went out together on the same day. We hid our gifts in grocery bags so we could not see what was being bought for one anther. We then went out to dinner. It was another way we spent time together doing something that is usually a holiday hassle.

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Family is important and spending time with loved ones is also important, but if you are constantly on the go and are not creating any time with your own spouse or family the stress of the holidays build up. When my wife and I got married we should have split our time with family to allow us to have time with each other. In some years, that was not the case and we found ourselves looking forward to the end of the holidays. During the last week before Christmas take a little time out for yourself. Spend a little time sitting alone in the living room with just the Christmas lights on listening to Christmas Music. Spend time doing something that you wanted to do, but never had the time doing. Slowing it down for the Christmas holiday does not mean to abandon life as you know it. Slowing down essentially balances life to reduce the stress that may come with this time of year, and give us a sense of peace that embodies what the holiday season is all about.

 

A Walk Down Candy Cane Lane

It sounds like a place from the board game Candy Land. Candy Cane Lane is one of Kalamazoo’s Christmas highlights. It is located in Bronson Park in Downtown Kalamazoo and the city puts on a Christmas light display worth checking out. I ventured out a few years back on a the start of a snowy evening for Southwestern Michigan. I had always heard stories from my mom and Grandparents who were natives of Kalamazoo about Bronson Park, but never had a visual account of what they were talking about until I saw it for myself. I returned there once again with my wife and brother and it was still amazing.

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The park is a rectangular park surrounded by churches, museums and government buildings in the heart of Downtown Kalamazoo. On each corner you enter the park through a tunnel of candy canes. It is an amazing walk as you go through this tunnel as candy canes lean up against each other from each side of the sidewalk to make this little tunnel. Light fixtures and trees all around are strung with lights and garland. As you walk into the park through this tunnel you get the feeling that you are walking into something magical. Once you pass through the tunnels of candy canes you are treated with a lighting display that is probably one of the best I have seen in any city park throughout the state. Lighted snowflakes stretch between the trees and there are a few lit up reindeer decorations placed strategically throughout the park.  In one of the parks monument areas there are several large candles lit similar to that of a menorah. I was really impressed with this display because it provides something for everyone as we celebrate the holidays.

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Further down the park near the concert pavilion is a nativity scene. The area is lit up with lights on the nativity scene. The figurines from the nativity scene have been put through the elements over time, but are still in pretty good shape. I have seen others that are much more battered and torn. In some ways the nativity scene seems a little out of its element; not due to the subject matter, but rather on account of the upkeep of all the other decorations and lights within the park. It is not a bad thing at all. In fact the nativity scene gives you a little bit of a throwback feel to decorations of old. I pictured my mom and grandparents having viewed this nativity scene several years before me. Viewing the nativity scene also gave me an added appreciation of the Christmas story.

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If you are looking for a great way to spend the Christmas season, I would highly recommend Bronson Park in Kalamazoo as a stop. The park is near the shopping district within Downtown Kalamazoo. Traffic around the park can get a little difficult at times, but there are plenty of parking spots around the park. It is near the public library, civic theater, and institute of the arts, making the park a good location for visitors. I was really impressed by the Christmas lights and decorations through the whole park. It is rare to see a tree that was not lit with Christmas lights. Again, I would say this park is one of the most festive parks I have seen throughout the state. A walk down Candy Cane Lane will be a Christmas walk to remember.

Of Christmas Past

A few years ago, I read about a historical park just outside of Hastings, Michigan. The article described a small park with buildings replicating life in the late 1800’s. I had never heard of this park before, so on an warm August day my wife and I decided to take a look for ourselves. That day, we spent a few hours at this park going in and out of the buildings. It was as if we were witnessing the life and times that my Great Grandmother had always talked about; a life that seemed simple and carefree. After the initial visit I noticed on their website that they were having an event that showcased Christmas back in he late 1800’s called “Of Christmas Past”, and I knew this was something worth going to.

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My wife and I took a tour around the historical village for this event. We walked into the Upjohn House/Administrative Office building and encountered Santa Claus sitting on a rocking chair awaiting for kids to come and visit. Nearby a man was cutting apple slices with an old apple slicer from the 1800’s and they were giving away cinnamon apple slices. We continued on making our way around the park. All the buildings were open, and you could wander through the buildings viewing what life was like in the 1800’s. Along the way we came across a few people dressed up in appropriate attire for the 1800’s giving out roasted chestnuts. We continued to the school building where someone was dressed up as an old school teacher and showing the kids various craft activities.

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The general store area was open and we noticed a long line out the door. To our surprise they were giving out free bags of popcorn. It was nice to step inside this building because throughout the year this building can be locked up and the only way to view it is from the outside. The general store had replica items and goods that were often used and consumed in the late 1800’s. They also had authentic items that you would normally see in a historical museum, thus the reason why I believe they lock this building up often. We had to stand in line for the popcorn for a while, but it was worth the wait as we got an up close and personal view of some of these historical artifacts. Our last stop was the church. The church is what you would expect from the late 1800’s. This small church had two isles of wooden pews. Inside the church a brass band was performing Christmas songs. We sat inside the church for a while and enjoyed a small Christmas concert. The church was refurbished back in 2010, so it came as no surprise that the acoustics inside were better than I thought. It was really nice to sit back and relax to some Christmas music after walking around the park for a while.

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Charlton Park is normally free to visit during most times of the year. However, during special events there is an admission charge. The “Of Christmas Past” event at Charlton Park costs $6.00 dollars for adults, and $3.00 dollars for children. When we went there, we spent a little over three hours there. The first time visiting you might find yourself there a little longer simply because there is a lot to see on top of the Christmas activities. When we went we had a great time. Christmas is always one of those times where you like to be swept back in time a little bit to enjoy the simpleness of life. Charlton Park’s “Of Christmas Past” not only takes you back in time, but provides a nice way to relax and enjoy the holiday season.

Christmas Traditions Around the World

I was riding home from an event the other night, and was amazed at some of the Christmas lights and decorations on the houses and bushiness that I passed. I love this time of year as the Christmas lights and decorations make everything a little bit more brighter and cheerful. If you like Christmas trees and decorations like I do, a stop at Fredrick Meijer Gardens in Grand Rapids is a must see. Every year Fredrick Meijer Gardens showcases the “Christmas and Holiday Traditions Around the World”. Inside you will walk through the main building of the gardens and can view Christmas trees lit up and decorated representing various countries. It is not only a great way to enjoy the holidays, but you will also walk away learning something new.

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My wife and I were greeted by Christmas decorations and lights the minute we walked into the entryway from the outside. The staff if very friendly and helpful when it comes to pointing you in the right direction. From there we were able to see quite a few Christmas trees decorated with ornaments that represented the country of the tree. There is a informational sign in front of each tree giving a description of a particular countries holiday traditions. There was a lot of information that I did not know and it was great to get a better understanding of how different people celebrate Christmas and the holidays. For instance, Australia celebrates Christmas during the summer. Traditionally, they would gather up wildflowers and decorate the tree with the flowers. It was a fact that I never knew before and had never really thought about how Christmas was celebrated in Australia. The countries that really don’t celebrate Christmas are represented with items in a glass casing showcasing the culture of that nation.

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The Christmas trees are not the only attraction while visiting the gardens this time. The greenhouse areas are attached to the main building. Inside the greenhouse area you will encounter the Railway Garden. This garden brings together miniature displays of buildings throughout Grand Rapids or near the metro area such as Holland and Lowell. These buildings are made up of natural materials and has many varieties of plants and flowers. My personal favorite aspect about this garden is that a model train runs through the whole garden near the buildings and past small waterfalls and garden areas. It is definitely worth taking a detour from the main part of the building to see this attraction. You can also venture inside the tropical greenhouse and see palm trees lit up with Christmas trees.

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Outside the main building are several trees lit up with Christmas lights. Trees are decorated with large ornaments and the area along the Children’s Garden is perfect for a winter stroll to see multi colored Christmas lights. The gardens also offers a holiday carriage ride through the park to create more of a festive environment. Grand Rapids has many things to see and do during the holiday season. Meijer Gardens is one of my favorite places visit during the holiday season. It creates a festive and cheerful environment and embodies everything that you would expect from the holiday season.

http://www.meijergardens.org/calendar/christmas-and-holiday-traditions-around-the-world/

Seasons Collide

I love the fall color season in Michigan. I only wish that it lasted a little longer. There is nothing like taking a walk in the woods smelling fall in the air and hearing the rustling of leaves below your feet. The colors in Michigan are amazing. The colors can vary from year to year based on weather conditions prior to the fall season, however the fall color season in Michigan usually does not disappoint. This year we experienced a late color season as we had unusual warm temperatures throughout October. In those years it is not uncommon to transition into winter really quickly. This year we have seen some snowfall throughout the state when there were still a few leaves hanging on the trees yet. This transition of seasons can make for some interesting photo opportunities.

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Before Halloween my wife and I got to farm markets and buy small pumpkins and gourds. They are the perfect fall decoration around the house. If left uncut these pumpkins and gourds can last for a couple months. That is perfect for me because I love to have the house decorated in fall decor right up to Thanksgiving. There are many ways to preserve your small pumpkins to transform them into Christmas decorations found on places like Pinterest, but I try to get rid of mine after Thanksgiving. This time of year is that key transitional season. We have had snow before Thanksgiving in years past. If you still have small pumpkins and gourds around while the snow falls, they can be used as interesting seasonal photos.

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A couple years ago we had an early winter. The snow started falling in mid November. Many places throughout the state had record snowfall in November. In many places within the state saw no accumulating snowfall. It was a green Christmas that year, but I was thankful the snow came when it did. We had just transitioned out of the fall color season. There were still a few leaves clinging to the trees, but most of them had fallen on the ground. I still had my small pumpkins in the house for Thanksgiving decor. I gathered all of them up and took them to a local park. I was able to place various pumpkins in the snow showcasing two seasons in one. It is not often that the seasons will collide like they did that year. It is also a blessing when snowfall hits and there are still colors on the leaves. Those are rare opportunities to take advantage of. I have also had a blast taking photos during these times. The same can be said of spring and winter as flowers start blooming and a late spring snowfall occurs.

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Small Town Christmas

There are many small towns in the state of Michigan. Many of them have holiday festivals and events that draw in many members of the community. One that I enjoy going to year after year is in the small town of Ada, just outside of Grand Rapids. The Tinsel, Treats and Trolley event is held on the first Friday of December and provides opportunities for small businesses to reach out to all the visitors. It is a fun family oriented activity that gets you in the mood for the Christmas season.

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The event starts with the annual bridge lighting ceremony. The Ada covered bridge is one of the few covered bridges in Michigan that gets decorated with lights during the holiday season. This bridge is impressive during any season, but is magical during the holidays. Once the bridge is lit up, several stores open up extended hours for shopping. Each store offers up cookies, fudge, candy, hot chocolate and many other Christmas snacks. Many of the stores are decorated up for Christmas. I love walking through these shops. There have been times where I have found something I wanted to take home with me. It is a lot of fun just strolling through these shops. The only drawback is with so many people, it does get crowded in some shops. As much as I don’t like the immense crowds, I have found the atmosphere is simply worth it all. The historical society and Ada Christian Reformed Church are open as well. Inside the church they have had snacks and many musical performances by the church band playing Christmas music. It is a nice place to stop in and relax just to catch a nice concert. The Historical Society building also offers treats, but is the place that you will run into Ms. Claus.

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Trolleys provide transportation to various locations within the village. I would recommend riding the trolley just once for the sheer fun of it. If you cannot get on the trolley, don’t worry too much. The village is small enough that all points of interest are within walking distance from each other. Some of the sidewalk areas along the main streets are lined up with luminaries, so even the walk is rather pleasant. My wife and I have opted to make the walk from point to point over the last couple years just to experience the event a different way. While walking around from shop to shop it is not uncommon to see Santa Claus stop in the shops to say hello to the visitors.  No matter what mode of transportation you use, I know that it will be a good time. I have always had fun at this event; my family has had fun at this event, and I have never heard any complaints about the organization of those putting this event on. Below is a link to the event. It will be on Friday December 2 which is coming up quickly. Take a walk. Take a ride on the Trolley. Enjoy some snacks and shopping. Most importantly, have a lot of fun and kick off the Christmas season

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http://adabusinessassociation.com/tinsel-treats-trolleys/