Friday’s annual downtown parade and lighting festivities will mark the official beginning of the Christmas season in Coeur d’Alene.
Be that as it may, it really seems that the unofficial beginning of the Christmas season arrives insanely early each year, somewhere near mid-October when skeletons and snowmen do the hustle together on retail shelves.
I’m writing this during the second week of November and I’ve already seen some local businesses with their Christmas lights fully blazing and wreaths decorating their doors, and I’m not just talking about the Christmas at the Lake store.
It’s a slow encroachment at first, but as soon as the last glop of Thanksgiving cranberry sauce is rinsed down the garbage disposal, the holiday madness really begins.
At dusk on the day after Thanksgiving, crowds begin to appear in anticipation of the annual downtown holiday parade. According to the Downtown Association Web site this year’s theme is “A Christmas to Remember” which, ironically, isn’t very memorable at all. Also ironic is the fact that all the people who flock downtown to watch the parade are exhausted from shopping all day in the malls and megastores, but few spend a dime in the downtown shops.
The crowd follows as the parade reaches its end near the main driveway of the Coeur d’Alene Resort. The resort has been staging its grandiose holiday lighting ceremony since the early ‘90s, starting out with just a few dozen guests and employees standing in the wintry chill long enough to watch an elf-suit clad Duane Hagadone plug in a long extension cord and light up a couple of bushes out in front of the corporate office. Over the years it has developed into an extravaganza which equals Coeur d’Alene’s massive Fourth of July events, bringing in thousands of revelers from all over the Northwest and beyond.
I’ll admit, it’s hard not to get emotional as the Duane and Mr. Jaeger appear on the risers and speak their feedbacky, nearly inaudible words to a hushed and reverent crowd. People peacefully light white candles, including those up in the resort garage dripping painful hot wax on passersby below. Suddenly, three billion lights come on all at once and fireworks explode over the lake as the loudspeakers blare Mannheim Steamroller’s synth-punk classic “Deck the Halls.” Moments later, most of the crowd shuffles off homeward to dream festive dreams of sugarplum fairies and dancing candy canes. The rest of us shuffle off to one of the lounges for a nice rum and coke.
The Coeur d’Alene Resort’s electric bill for December must be staggering, rivaling that of a typical Las Vegas casino. Anything and everything is covered in happy twinkling lights, and when they run out of surfaces to cover in lights, they invent new things to cover in lights. Every year, they switch up the formula a bit, adding new elements to a display that sprawls across the hotel’s property and stretches miles out into the lake.
The best way to take in all the holiday glitz is the winter boat cruises, which are a real treat for the whole family. The grown-ups can enjoy some “special” cocoa while the kids visit the jolly man with the red nose, big belly and funny hat. And when they’re done with Drunk Uncle Frank, they can go say “Hi” to Santa, too.
If you aren’t experiencing a warm, fuzzy Christmas glow after all the downtown action, there are several more interesting opportunities to force yourself into feeling some holiday cheer. Head over to the Old Church Arts and Cultural Center in Post Falls next Saturday for “A Bluegrass Christmas” featuring Columbia, a musical super-group made up of veteran Northwest bluegrass artists. Steve Beagly of Northwest Music Scene writes that “this band delivers a great combination of acoustic talent complemented with the high-lonesome sounds of bluegrass harmony.” Nothing goes together like Christmas joy and high-lonesomeness. This concert costs $10 and begins at 7:30 p.m. Contact program coordinator Marina Kalani at 457-8950 for more information.
If you appreciate the charm and kitsch of a small-town holiday she-bang, you’ll want to pop over to Wallace on Dec. 1, where the “Yuletide Celebration” promises to rock the Center of the Universe with a full day of potentially surreal activities. The festival kicks off with an old-fashioned pie and coffee social sponsored by the senior center. Once you’re sufficiently wired and too bloated to walk, you can wander through downtown Wallace and check out the Mini Festival of Trees (are there only a couple of trees or are the trees really small?), watch the crowning of Little Miss and Master Snowflake, and cross the street repeatedly to avoid eye contact with the oncoming group of carolers.
When the sun sets, you can meander over to the brightly-lit residential district for the “Winter Walk of Open Houses.” The night wraps up with the Wallace Elks Christmas Cabaret, a series of words that sends a chill down my back, conjuring images of grizzled miners in spangled red unitards and reindeer horns, doing synchronized high-kicks to a Liza Minelli Christmas tune. I’m afraid if that idea doesn’t knock the bah humbug out of you, nothing will.