Downtown GR rings in the holiday season

Approximately 4,300 people gathered to celebrate Lighting Up Downtown at Rosa Parks Circle this past Friday evening. The event has been sponsored by Downtown Grand Rapids Inc. for the past two years.

The event started with an enthusiastic set of choir songs sung by Good Tidings Caroling Company. They were followed by a performance of the Western Michigan University Synchronized Ice Skating Team, which got a lot of positive feedback from the crowd. The skaters performed to a combination of Christmas songs, one of which was a crowd favorite, Mariah Carey’s “All I Want for Christmas.”

Following the performances, Mayor Rosalynn Bliss took the stage. Bliss welcomed everyone, thanked community partners and reminded attendees to shop local this Christmas season.

“We have a lot of great local businesses and they really depend on a lot of us to be successful,” said Bliss.

Bliss was joined by radio station WYCE’s Quinn Matthews and Gabriella de la Vega to welcome Grand Rapidians to the event. De la Vega added a Spanish translation of the announcements to further serve the Spanish-speaking population of Grand Rapids.

“Supporting local businesses is definitely one of DGRI’s values,” said Jennie Schumacher, communications coordinator for Downtown Grand Rapids Inc. “Local businesses enhance the value of Downtown as more dollars spent locally keep investment within our community.”

Finally, at 5:30 p.m., Mayor Bliss began the countdown, and the multitude of people joined in. Upon reaching “1,” the colossal Christmas tree in Rosa Parks circle lit up brightly with multicolored Christmas lights. At the same time, all the Christmas lights through the entire city of Grand Rapids lit up as well, officially welcoming in the holiday season.

According to Schumacher, the holiday tree had 45,000 lights, storefronts had 31,500 lights and other public spaces used 105,500 lights. This makes the total light count add up to a whopping 182,000 lights.

While the tradition to have a Christmas tree downtown has existed for many years, Schumacher pointed out what has changed over the years:

“The coordinated effort to flip the switch on all the lights within downtown is a recent change that enhances the experience and helps create a dynamic and vibrant downtown. Each year the event grows in attendance, number of vendors and partners supporting the event, ice-related activities and more.”

The festivities continued throughout the evening. Ice-skating was free for the evening and there were quickly skaters of all ages out enjoying the ice. Food trucks along the edge of the jubilee included: Patty Matters – Food Truck, The Everyday Chef and Wife, Doughrunts and Ferris Coffee & Nut Truck. The food trucks offered hot drinks, burgers, doughnuts and more.

People marveled at the eight-foot ice sculpture of a reindeer, lit up and gleaming in the night. Beneath the newly lit Christmas tree, kids jumped excitedly in line to meet Santa and Mrs. Claus, while parents excitedly took pictures.

Among the crowd of thousands, several Calvin students attended the festivities. Junior Noah Certa was impressed with the sheer number of people that showed:

“There were more people than I expected, which was good to see. It was a fun way to kick off the Christmas season in the community.”

Calvin junior Ashley Liu expressed delight at the reveal of the lights.

“My favorite part was seeing the whole street light up,” said Liu. “I didn’t know they were going to do that! And I also loved the ice skaters.”

Lighting up downtown was only the first holiday event in downtown Grand Rapids. To discover more holiday happenings, check out