Victorian Sleighbell Parade and Old Christmas Weekend

Alright guys. Thanksgiving is officially over, and we’re only 2 days away from December 1st. You know what that means?? It’s totally OKAY to full on embrace CHRISTMAS!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Yeah yeah. I’m one of those people. To be completely honest with you, I’ve been listening to Christmas carols and had my house decorated for weeks now. So count your blessing that this is the first Christmas themed post you’re seeing 🙂

The thing I’m talking about today technically should go along with my favorite Christmas traditions, however, I love it so much, I decided to give it a post of it’s own! But before we can even begin talking about it, I want to give you a bit of a back story…

Have you ever wanted to step back in time? Like, wish you could go back and celebrate a holiday in a different era where everything was a little bit simpler, buying the perfect gift didn’t matter, and spending time with your family was the number one thing on everyone’s wish list? I have.

When I was little, one Christmas, I asked Santa for my very first American Girl Doll. I wanted Samantha SO BADLY. I was super worried that Santa wasn’t going to bring her for me, and I would be crushed. However, Santa pulled through (as always) and there she was under my Christmas tree on Christmas morning. Not only did he bring me Samantha, he brought me all her books, her bed and her clothes. I was beyond excited. Thinking back, that is still the Christmas morning I remember most clearly, and that memory still makes me so dang happy.

My obsession with Samantha partly came because I grew up in a small town known as The Victorian Port City. It’s filled with stately homes built in the early 1900s. I always loved those houses, and when I saw that Samantha Parkington LIVED in a house just like that, well, it’s safe to say I had to have her. (Plus, she looked like me. And I liked that too.)

While I was reading her books, Samantha’s stories came to life very easily for me. I lived in a place that looked just like the town she described. I saw houses every day that seemed like she could really live in them. And, I grew up going to The Victorian Sleighbell Parade and Old Christmas Weekend. Every year since I was a little girl, I remember this being my absolute favorite parade of the year. (Yeah, that’s right, it’s better than our 4th of July parade.)

Now I’m not sure if my love for this holiday celebration stems from my love for my hometown, my love for Christmas, or the fact that this parade literally brought Samantha’s world to life for me, but it doesn’t matter. I’m telling you right now, this parade is something you need to see at least once in your life, no matter who you are.

To visit Manistee the first weekend in December is to take a step back in time. You’ll see carolers lined up downtown in beautiful Victorian outfits. There are horse drawn carriages, reindeer, Christmas trees, Santa Claus and of course, the parade ending with a 30 foot Christmas tree being pulled down Riverstreet by draft horses.

But how exactly do you navigate this small town festival? Lucky for you, I’ve got the inside scoop!

The Basics. 
  • The Dates. Manistee’s Victorian Sleighbell Parade and Holiday Weekend begins this Thursday, December 1st and goes until Sunday December 4th.
  • The Location. Downtown Manistee, Michigan.
  • Stay, Eat, Drink and Play. A while ago, I did a Mitten Monday on my hometown. Whether it’s the summer time, or Sleighbell Weekend, I will ALWAYS recommend the same places to stay, eat, drink and play. Check out my Manistee City Guide here.
The Parade. The Crown Jewel of the weekend is for sure the parade. It’s the one thing that everyone comes into town for, the other events are just small bonuses. People come from all over the country for this unique experience. That being said, it can be crowded and kind of crazy. If you want the BEST parade experience, heres what you do!
  • Don’t show up last minute. People starting lining their chairs up really really early in the morning for this. If you show up last minute, you’re going to get stuck in the back. And I don’t mean just behind one other person, the sidewalk fills completely up.
  • Don’t leave too early. Stay for the whole thing, no matter how cold you are! There is usually a surprise at the end. But to see it, you’re going to have to follow the tree (a tradition) to the end of Riverstreet. Watch out for horse poop, and hold on to your loved ones tight! PS… the surprise may or may not be fireworks.
  • Don’t expect to eat downtown after. Downtown is crazy after the parade! But honestly, you can expect to wait at all the local restaurants. Our favorite tradition is to call and order take out from Chows, just as the fireworks are finishing up, picking it up, and taking it home to eat while we watch Love Actually.
  • Dress warm. Some years, we have been graced with beautiful weather, where all you needed was a coat and hat. Other years, you need a snow suit and you’re still not warm enough. I always recommend dressing in layers, and getting hand warmers. Also, a hat, gloves and mittens are a must!
  • Park away from the mess. Since all of the parking for our downtown area is along River Street, parking ends up being super crazy at parade time. You obviously can’t park on River Street so you have to find somewhere else. Don’t try to park at the end of the parade route like everyone else. Bring your walking shoes and park somewhere near downtown.
  • Pick your spot. Check out downtown before the parade to choose your favorite spot. My family always sits by The Vouge Theater, however, you won’t have a bad seat no matter where you choose! Also, be aware that they live broadcast the parade! So if you don’t want to be by the cameras and lights, steer clear of the broadcast are.
  • Don’t eat the chestnuts. Chestnuts roasting on an open fire are gross. ‘Nuff said. However, they do keep your hands warm if you put them in your pockets.
  • Hot Cocoa is always a good idea. Pretty much every place down town will be selling hot chocolate. Wait in line… it’s worth it. (Especially at Goody’s!)

The Can’t Miss Events. While the parade is the number one thing people come to see, there are plenty of other events to keep you busy while you’re in town. Here are a few of my favorites!
  • Christmas Cookies and Wine with Douglas Valley
  • Cookie Fun for Everyone
  • Tour the historic Ramsdell Theater
  • Festival of Trees
  • Arts and Crafts show
  • Jingle Bell Jog
  • Carriage Rides
  • And of course… a visit to Santa.

For more information on these events and times click here!

So… you’ll notice this post is for sure lacking in photos. It’s because it’s usually so cold, I wouldn’t dare taking my mittens off to get a picture! So if you’re still wanting to know more, check out this video.

I’m insanely sad because I have to miss the parade this year. It just so happens our friends are getting married this weekend in Grand Rapids. So that means, you all will just have to go and enjoy it for me 🙂

I hope your Monday’s aren’t TOO terrible after the nice long weekend. I know I pretty much crawled out of bed this morning and am still feeling a bit like a zombie. I’ll be back tomorrow with a fun travel inspired DIY!

Happy Monday!

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