In our family, we celebrate the falling of the final leaves of the season along with the final collapse of our front-porch pumpkins. Why? These milestones signal the start of the holiday season and give me the “green-light” to begin my holiday decorating, shopping and general festive spirit. We celebrate Christmas in our family and I admit it’s my favorite time of the year. The lights, parties, decorations, family and yes, the baking, are all part of what I look forward to. And in the midst of it all is the generosity of spirit, accompanied by an easy smile, found throughout my community.
To kick off the season, the Olympia Downtown Association (ODA) has hosted Downtown for the Holidays for 27 years. Started in 1988 by Janis Dean, owner of downtown gift shop, The Popinjay, the event was originally organized by a volunteer army of downtown merchants. In 1998, the ODA took over the event’s organization and helped grow it to the event it is now.
This community celebration marks the beginning of the holidays and is a highlight for many families, bringing residents to the independent shops and restaurants throughout our downtown core. Events are scheduled on Sunday, November 29 and offer something for everyone.
“The ODA’s mission is ‘to preserve, promote and enhance the downtown Olympia community,’” shares Vida Zvirzdys-Farler, Executive Director of the Olympia Downtown Association. “Downtown for the Holidays celebration fits right in, inviting everyone to come downtown and share in the community’s excitement by kicking off the holiday season with fun. Nearly all of the merchants and restaurants have their shops decorated for the season showing off their holiday spirit.”
Events kick off at noon on Sunday, November 29 and culminate in the annual Tree Lighting Ceremony in Sylvester Park at 4:30 p.m. Arrive early for rides in a traditional horse-drawn carriage around downtown or opt for an electric trolley ride throughout the streets. Swing into The Washington Center for the Performing Arts to view their Gingerbread House display from noon to 3:30 p.m. The displays are created by local teams of bakers and builders all to benefit SideWalk and their mission to end homelessness.
Live music begins in the Sylvester Park gazebo at 1:00 p.m. with Kids in Concert sharing vocal holiday favorites the Alleluia! Hand Bell Ensemble and the Singing, Ringing Chime Choir from First Christian Church begin their performance at 1:15 p.m. at Batdorf & Bronson Coffee Roasters on Capitol Way.
All activities come to a halt at 3:00 p.m. for the highlight of the afternoon – the Holiday Parade. The route begins at The Olympia Farmers Market and proceeds up Capitol Way, ending at Sylvester Park. The parade draws people from across Thurston County as well as Lewis County and Grays Harbor County. “Participants in the Holiday parade include the Future Farmers of America Club at North Thurston High School, the Grays Harbor Mounted Posse Indoor Pro Rodeo Court, the Tumwater Fire Department’s vintage fire truck, the Tenino Motorcycle Drill Team and the Capital High School Marching Band to name a few,” shares Zvirzdys-Farler.
After the parade, warm up with a hot-chocolate or coffee from a downtown coffee shop and head back to the Sylvester Park gazebo for a fantastic show at 4:00 p.m. by the Olympia Highlanders Pipes and Drums followed by Olympia’s own singer/songwriter/producer (and past Glee cast member), Derik Nelson sharing some of his holiday favorites.
The tree is lit to the “oohs” and “ahhs” of the crowd around at 4:30 p.m.
Throughout the entire day (with a break for the parade) families can stop into the New Caldonia Building on 5th Avenue for photos with Santa.
Throughout downtown Olympia, visitors will enjoy creative and festive window displays as part of Twinklefest 2015, a friendly holiday décor contest sponsored by the Parking & Business Improvement Area. Each business donates a gift certificate of at least $25 to their shop or restaurant. Visitors to downtown can vote online for their favorite display from November 27 through December 20. Several times throughout the voting period, winners will be selected at random from those who have voted to receive a prize of four to five donated gift certificates – perfect for stocking stuffers or treating yourself!
If you feel that familiar stirring of holiday excitement as I do at this time of year and are itching to hang the lights and make some fudge, join your neighbors in kicking off the start of the season. The downtown Olympia community wants to share the holiday spirit, a love of Olympia, and a sense of community unity with you on November 29.
Downtown for the Holidays is made possible by the generous support of downtown businesses, sponsors donations, and through the tremendous help of volunteers. If you’d like to get involved, opportunities to volunteer are still available. Contact the ODA at email@example.com for more details.