Seattle celebrates the holiday season like any other city. Homes are adorn with lights, radio stations play non-stop Christmas music, inflatable Santas stand atop rooftops and shoppers bustle through the streets searching for that perfect gift. It’s also the time of year when the small mountain town of Leavenworth, Washington welcomes hordes of twinkly light lovers to their annual Christmas Lighting Festival.
Leavenworth, the chameleon of Washington State and certainly one of the most profitable towns in Washington, once again, did not disappoint.
Susan and I have been to Leavenworth many times, the first was during Oktoberfest and then again to raft the Icicle and Wenatchee Rivers (see our blog posts Tubing in Leavenworth and 48 Hours in Leavenworth).
For this double dose of Christmas spirit we once again asked Greer and William to join us. We erred on the side of caution and opted for a fun, lively and trivia-filled bus ride to Leavenworth provide by Sound Excursions. Great company and a very simple and safe way to get there.
When we arrived and stepped off the bus, the crisp mountain air welcomed us to this Christmas wonderland filled with carolers, roaming characters like Rudolph and Frosty, and barrels burning with wood, proving both warmth and an amazing smell that filled the air. While we stood together, taking it all in, deciding how to begin our festivities, I thought to myself, “This town is amazing”.
Leavenworth, located 135 miles away from Seattle, has a population of only 1,965, yet tens of thousands of people filled with the Christmas spirit travel to Leavenworth during the three weekends in December in which the lighting festival takes place. Both Saturday and Sunday, right at dusk, the town is lit with over one hundred thousand lights. It’s spectacular.
This Bavarian treasure has mastered the art of the festival experience. Most fests center around the Bavarian lifestyle, like the International Accordion Celebration (June 18-21) that I am dying to attend. It seems that not a weekend passes without a good reason, like the aforementioned, to once again travel to Leavenworth.
Having discussed the plan on the bus, we opted to eat lunch first and then walk the streets, shopping, snacking, all while awaiting the Christmas light fantastique that awaited us at dusk.
We ended up at Bavarian Bistro & Bar, settled in and order a large and varied smattering of Bavarian treats. Of course, all food was accompanied by delicious local beers.
Susan had the “Sausage Sampler” (a trio of encased meats from bratwurst to knockwurst to weisswurst) and I enjoyed creamy roasted brussels sprouts, a bit of pretzel with a really spicy mustard that I loved, and some pickled herring, yum! We drank and ate and took in the sights from our window side seat.
Bellies full, we wandered back out into the merriment, found so many great opportunities for photos and general holiday cheer and made our way in and out of the plentiful shopping that lines the streets.
I once again came across a sweater that I had asked Santa for last year, I’m pretty certain Susan put a stop to this.
After a couple hours, feet needing a break, we ended up stopping in at Icicle Brewing Company for a quick beer before the lighting ceremony. Icicle has some of my favorite beers around and it’s always fun to explore a new brewery. We warmed up by their outdoor fire pit and laughed and told stories of our day thus far. Little did we know of the magic that awaited us.
As 4:30 approached we made our way down to the town gazebo, the site of the lighting. The Philadelphia Youth Choir was singing, dusk was upon us and the crowd began to swell with anticipation.
Just prior to the lighting, a procession of four stars, two pairs coming for opposite ends of the village, made their way to the gazebo. The choir began to sing Silent Night (for the record, one of my favorite songs), the crowd joined in and bells held by those leading the stars began to softly ring out. This was truly an amazing site to see.
A collective feeling of love and togetherness emerged from the crowd as we all sung together. I felt at this point that we had all put aside the frenzy that has become Christmas and instead, if only for the duration of this song, celebrated the true meaning of the holiday season, peace on Earth and harmony for all.
I looked over at Susan, who had predictably begun to cry by this overwhelming display of sentiment, and as I wrapped my arm around her, it felt as if the warmth now enveloping the town came not from the barrels, but rather from the communion of witnesses around me.
The stars were then positioned on the gazebo and soon the countdown to the town lighting began. I must admit, the anticipation was pretty in palpable. When we reached the count of 1, the entire town, top to bottom, up and down the street, every tree and bush, was lit. The glow of the lights lit our faces revealing our smiles that went from ear to ear.
After walking around and viewing the lights, we made one last stop at a nutcracker shop. We had planned to go to the Nutcracker museum, a must see says Susan, but sadly, it had closed. The shop was filled with a wide assortment of nutcrackers and other oddities. We made a few purchases and headed to our bus as it was time to leave.
This could become an annual pilgrimage for us. Even though Leavenworth is like any tourist town, chock full of items we really don’t need, the gift we all left with that day was the gift of the Christmas spirit and peace in our hearts.