If giant red balls descending on downtown Lansing heralds the start of the holiday season, then Silver Bells in the City is the event that rings it in with an extra loud “ding-dong!”
“Silver Bells in the City is a beloved Lansing tradition that spans generations of families and friends. This is my 13th year directing this event, and it is humbling to see tens of thousands of people from mid-Michigan and beyond come together as a community to celebrate the magic of the holidays,” said Mindy Biladeau, vice president of sales and service for the Lansing Entertainment & Public Facilities Authority.
According to Biladeau, Silver Bells is coordinated by a committee of partners, sponsors and volunteers under the direction of LEPFA.
“We work together for several months to bring Silver Bells in the City to life. The committee consists of about 25 people, we have more than 60 sponsors, and we work closely with all city departments; the Michigan Department of Technology, Management & Budget; the Michigan State Capitol Facilities Office; the Michigan State Police; FOX 47; and the Lansing Public Media Center, just to name a few.”
This year’s attendees were treated to milder temperatures and fewer crowds than years past. As promised, the parade stepped off at 6 p.m., and the finale fireworks display concluded at about 8:30 p.m. Everything went off without a hitch.
Although the 39th year of the festival didn’t see dramatic programming changes, the parade continued to draw first-time attendees as vendors, participants and spectators. Brandon McKaney said this was his first time attending the festival in nearly 10 years.
“It’s my daughter’s first Silver Bells,” he said. McKaney’s wife laughed and joked with myself and photographer Roxanne Frith as her husband posed with his friend Allen Moralles for a photo. Moralles said he was looking forward to seeing his alma mater’s marching band and would be cheering on the Waverly Warriors. His reason for coming downtown?
“Honestly, I was just bored at home,” he said.
As Frith and I meandered our way down Washington Square, we caught sight of two young people wearing lighted flair and decided to investigate. Alyx and Silver were there with High Caliber Karting and Entertainment, waiting for the parade to start.
“This is High Caliber’s first year in the parade. I’ll be driving one of our mini karts, and Silver will be handing out goody bags,” Alyx said. The pair posed on the corner of Allegan and Lenawee streets, near the official beginning of the parade route.
As we ventured past the barricades, we saw the Portland High School Marching Band tuning up; the Michigan State University Rodeo Club, who tipped their hats as they sauntered past; and a man in a giant fox costume dancing his heart out near the Hager Fox Heating & Air Conditioning float.
According to Elaine Wilson, it took a few days just to decorate the lighted rig for 1-800-PIT-CLEAN. Located off Lake Lansing Road, the business provides commercial cleaning for car washes, restaurants and more. I got distracted by the five-month-old puppy that accompanied the group, but we eventually started talking, and the Wilsons corralled their band of kids in for a group picture. “This is our second year in the parade,” said Sal Wilson, the business’ president.
Next we headed north, toward the Silver Bells Village. This was the first time Kellee and Leo VanValkenburg had attended Silver Bells, and we caught up with them as they sold their Cereal City Candles.
“Everything is uniquely scented,” said Kellee VanValkenburg, “and we work really hard to offer something different for our customers.”
Her husband chimed in, “This is our first year here, and it’s biggest event we’ve done. We have high hopes that we’ll be successful.”
The couple said their top-selling scent was Breakfast in Battle Creek. Other vendors included local food trucks Taqueria Monarca and Hangry Bear and infused cocktail company Mitten Mixers.
Every year, Silver Bells creates a commemorative ornament that’s available for purchase at the Village and online. This year’s ornament was designed and handcrafted by Tiffany Marie of La Fille Gallery and featured a large treble clef made of sparkling Swarovski crystal.
Indeed, this year’s event did sparkle, with thousands of lights on vehicles ranging from CATA buses to bicycles. As the League of Michigan Bicyclists rode through the streets, popping wheelies and sporting colorful helmets, the parade announcer read from his remarks, “This year, there’s a new law in Michigan that you cannot hold a phone while driving.” The bicyclists’ message included information about sharing the road and their commitment to improving bicycling in Michigan.
Also represented were General Motors’ Lansing Delta Township and Lansing Grand River assembly plants. Melissa Hall of GM posed with Ron Eddington of Jack Cooper, the company that hauled GM’s vehicles. But perhaps the most popular vehicle in the Electric Light Parade was that of the Petoskey Steel Drum Band. Remarked the announcer, “Just. Wow. This is awesome.”
Watching over the parade was a small group perched high up on the balcony of the Capitol. And as the floats came to an end, the crowd counted down to the tree lighting and was dazzled by a brilliant display of orange and yellow. The crowd sang along with Grace West, who won second place on season 23 of NBC’s “The Voice.” A Michigan native, West led thousands in a rendition of “Last Christmas” while the crowd sang along and danced together.
Then, everyone fell silent as the lighted drone show took to the sky over the Capitol. We made our way east down Michigan Avenue, parting the crowds of upturned faces who were completely captivated by the swiftly moving lights in the sky.
While Frith and I continued down Michigan Avenue past Grand Avenue, we turned around and were treated to a wide view of the fireworks display booming high over the Capitol. As we walked on to catch our ride from the parking lot of the Capital City Market, we stopped a group of millennials dressed in Christmas pajamas, who were obviously just heading out to a party or a bar crawl. As our night was ending, theirs was just beginning. They turned around and gave us a picture-perfect smile for the camera.
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