It’s been known by different names, but the spirit of the Holiday Harbor Lights festival has always been the same, and each year the residents of Blaine herald the holiday season by lighting a community Christmas tree and welcoming Santa Claus to town.
For more than 30 years, the city of Blaine has been celebrating the advent of the holiday season by gathering together for a cup of cheer around the Christmas tree, and very little about the event has changed except for the location, according to Debbie Harger, city community development and tourism coordinator.
“There are several underlying elements of the festivities,” she said. “There’s the Christmas tree lighting, the arrival of Santa,
refreshments and shopping. It’s been the same forever as far as I can remember.”
Originally stationed in front of the police station, the Christmas tree lighting has been a stalwart of the festivities, Harger said. It was a full community endeavor – the ornaments used to be made by the Boys & Girls Club. “We used to begin with caroling, and then coordinate the lighting of the tree to coincide with Santa’s arrival, but we realized that we were all out there singing in the dark,” she said with a laugh. “Now, we start with the lighting and the festivities follow.” After the boardwalk was built in 2007, Blaine Chamber, merchants and the city purchased an artificial tree and moved the lighting ceremony to its current location.
“We bought a 17-foot artificial tree,” Harger said, adding that the box it is mounted on adds up to an even 20 feet. “We went with a big a tree as we could possibly get, because we wanted it to be seen from far away,” Carroll Solomon, manager of the visitor’s center said.
Harger laments the loss of the handmade decorations, though. “It would have been fun to keep doing it, but it’s a big tree, and the ornaments were small. It didn’t look quite right.”
This year, the chamber is harkening back to its Christmas tree roots and, in addition to the city’s official tree, is inviting local businesses to decorate their own trees and display them in G Street Plaza. Awards will be given to the best-dressed trees.
The community tree lighting is just the beginning, though. The highlight of the evening comes later. And, whether he comes by Plover or by fire truck, one thing is for sure: Santa Claus is coming to Blaine. This year he’ll be doing both. With a quick jaunt through the marina on the Plover to kickoff the lighted boat parade, he’ll find his footing at the boat ramp to hop aboard one of North Whatcom Fire Rescue’s engines to continue his tour to the community Christmas tree.
“We’re encouraging everyone to stay in the plaza,” Soloman said. “That’s where all the activities are, and that’s where he’ll eventually end up.”
The event offers families and individuals alike an opportunity to visit downtown and the surrounding Blaine areas for a plethora of holiday-focused events. There really is something for everyone.
Beginning Friday, November 30, Blaine opens its doors to the spirit of the season with the Homemade Arts & Crafts Bazaar at the Blaine Community Center from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. and a Blaine Library book sale from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m.
Friday’s events will be followed at 7 p.m. by a performance of “The Children’s Nutcracker Fantasy” at the Blaine Performing Arts Center (PAC). Tickets are available at the door. Proceeds go to the Blaine Boys & Girls Club.
On Saturday, December 1, after a fun afternoon of dashing through the streets of Blaine at the first-ever Holiday Lights Dash (a one-mile fun run set for 3 p.m., pre-registration required – see “Coming Up” on page 14 for details), get warm and cheery at Blaine Bouquets with a glass of mulled wine or cider from noon to 5 p.m.
Blaine will also revisit the days of yore with horse-drawn trolleys parading the city streets. Free rides in the trolleys are sponsored by the Blaine Chamber of Commerce from 4 to 6:30 p.m. Afterward, you can stay toasty and warm around the fire with karaoke sponsored by Thousand Trails Birch Bay.
The peak of the event will be at 4:30 p.m. on Saturday, with the community tree lighting and caroling by the Blaine High School band and choir downtown at Harborview Plaza (H Street and Peace Portal Drive).
Santa will arrive by fire engine at 5:15 p.m. and visit with children for photos and free candy canes at the Blaine Pizza Factory.
Decorated boats will sail through Drayton Harbor between 5 and 6 p.m., giving onlookers a chance to marvel at the Christmas lights on the water.
To wrap it all up, a concert by the North Cascades Concert band will be held at the PAC at 7:30 p.m.
If you’d rather give than receive this holiday season, there will be opportunities to donate to the Blaine Food Bank at the Christmas tree lighting, as well as at Sterling Bank and the Blaine Liquor Store.
The chamber is offering businesses the opportunity to display their holiday spirit by participating in the Winter Wonderland display downtown.
The trees will be decorated and on display around the railing on G Street Plaza. Businesses may still participate, but must contact the chamber no later than 5 p.m. on Thursday, November 29. They will need to supply their own trees (4 – 6 feet high) and lights.
All trees need to be decorated and on display by Saturday, November 30.
The chamber is also encouraging businesses to decorate their storefronts and help fuel the Christmas spirit in Blaine. Judging of trees and decorations will be held on Saturday, December 1, and registration is required.
Contact Carroll Solomon at 360/332-4544 or Debbie Harger at 360/543-9982 to participate.
“It really is a great event,” Harger said. “I remember my kids coming to see Santa when they were small, and they still have memories of that.”