For those of us residing in the Northern Hemisphere, December 21 marks the beginning of winter—a new season—time to celebrate! But. This crisp solstice day leads with the latest sunrise and ends with earliest sunset of any other day on the calendar. So…. how best to be festive at the darkest time of year? Why, with millions of holiday lights, of course!
Nestled in a place of only 2000 residents, the small Bavarian themed town of Leavenworth, Washington plays host to thousands of visitors at its annual Christmas Lighting Festival. For over 50 years, people in search of an invitingly quaint village celebration—set against a snow covered mountain backdrop—come here in droves. Why? This year, we decided to find out for ourselves…
To and from
Parking at such an event can be a bit of a challenge. Wintery weather conditions can make the drive equally challenging. Clipper Vacations to the rescue! Booking our day trip online a few weeks earlier, I selected a charter bus pick-up point just a few miles from our house.
Boarding the bus, each of us received a breakfast goodie bag, a bottle of water and even some cookies for the ride home (assuming the afternoon treats aren’t consumed a little earlier…). Free Wi-Fi allowed our merry group of travelers to “stay connected,” while the TV monitors played a Christmas movie for those willing to look up from their conversations or electronic devices—or away from the increasingly snowy mountain pass scenery outside.
Food and drink
One thing about Leavenworth you’ll discover quickly: the Bavarian style facades, signage and decorations begin to welcome you to the town waaaaaay before you arrive at its center. You won’t wonder if you’re there yet; you’ll know. And as soon as we knew we’d arrived, our taste buds woke up.
So… what to enjoy first? Having snacked during our morning drive, we weren’t starving, but we were up for a little warmth. Vendors set up near the gazebo caught our eyes (and noses), so we made our way there. The winner? Mulled wine!
Glühwein—German mulled wine to be more specific—produced by Washington State’s own WooHoo Winery—was the featured holiday beverage of the day. We entered the alcohol tent and made our purchase. Good stuff! Hot and delicious, it needed no additional spices.
All toasty and ready for the afternoon, we meandered through the streets while doing a little window shopping. Admiring the décor and noting our desired must-visit list of businesses for the day, we found our lunch place: Visconti’s Italian Restaurant. Not that there wasn’t enough Bavarian food stands around, but we’ve been to Visconti’s a few years prior and we’re eager to come back.
Enjoying the great food, service and atmosphere, we were happy to have our return visit exceed our expectations. Also, seated at a table with a view of the street helped us feel connected to the outside festivities.
Downstairs, the restaurant’s walk-in gelato shop, Viadolce, happily handed out samples of their traditional and dairy-free icy goodness. My husband opted for lemon. And yes, I snuck a bite. Yum!
Holding out for a dessert in cookie form, and very ready for my latte, we queued up for entry into our next shop stop: The Gingerbread Factory. The fragrance and appearance in this store is holiday heaven! Plenty of festive décor and souvenirs strategically placed along the path to the bakery counter made shopping all too easy…
Lucky for me, I was in line behind a former Gingerbread Factory employee who gave me an excellent recommendation: the Gingerbread Soft Ice cookie. Thank you, kind stranger! It was the perfect accompaniment to my latte, made by their skillful baristas.
Shop and marvel
Food and beverage stands and stores weren’t the only places enjoying long lines of excited patrons. Many clothing, trinket and specialty shops featured lines curving along the sidewalks for several yards. Everyone maintained good spirits, but this factor did help us determine a few “maybe next time” merchants.
We did, however, manage the queue for one fun store: A Matter of Taste. Lots of funky flavorful stocking stuffers for us to buy. We also made it back to the Glühwein tent to purchase a few bottles of WooHoo’s Red Spiced Wine to take home. And then, it was time to find a perch somewhere around the festival’s main event: the tree lighting ceremony!
Just after dusk, the many visitors began to position themselves all around the gazebo and park that make up the town square. We found an excellent locale kitty-corner to the soon-to-be-very-festive trees.
First the surrounding buildings—the instant illumination of their facades brought a collective cheer from the crowd. And a few minutes later… lights, camera, action! The true height of the town square’s ginormous evergreens was revealed in beautiful, bright strands of white and colorful miniature bulbs. Thousands of them! An impressive sight to behold.
Making our way back to the motor coach, purchases in tow and new memories gelling in our noggins, we were already planning a return visit.
Welcoming this chilly, dark season with Leavenworth’s fantastic festival certainly left us with warm and happy smiles on our faces. And the lights gave us a strong reminder that lighting even one candle can break the darkness in a very cheerful way. J 🎄