I grew up in Newaygo country. My memories of the area are rich odes to the senses. There’s the feeling of the cold river running over my feet in the summer, sunlight on my face as it blinked through the rustling tree branches along the bank. There was the taste of sweet strawberry smoothies and chocolate-brownie frosting. There was the grating of my teeth against a spoon as I munched, kicking my feet against the bar of the old River Stop Café building. One of my fondest memories, though, is of a tradition that the city has maintained since my childhood, and each generation gets to discover it again and again. The tradition is Christmas Walk in downtown Newaygo, and the event gets better each passing year.
This year the main road through town closed around 5:30, right as darkness fell and blanketed our otherwise sleepy town. Each small business was open late; their windows were decorated with blinking red, white, and green lights which reflected across the ice and snow outside. The vendors offered specials; fuzzy sweaters and vests hung on racks outside of the sporting goods store, 37-North. Flying Bear Books held a 40% off sale, and the local hair salon gave discounted cuts and colors. Christmas music played over the loudspeakers which rang between the alleys of the downtown brick buildings like personal valley-songs.
Because of the road closure, food trucks were able to take over, and their smells wafted through the breezy evening air. There was the sweetness of kettle corn, the warmth and spice of steamed milk for hot chocolate, and the smoke of BBQ floating along, hinting at consumption. The air was cold, but not so much that guests were deterred. Instead, hundreds of people wandered up and down and streets, popping in and out of local businesses, ordering food and drinks to go.
As every year, Santa made a visit and children lined up to see him and sit on his lap, making hopeful requests for the presents they wished to find on Christmas morning. Families waited in long lines to ride on the horse-drawn carriages that ambled through town, forcing walkers to dodge them as they crossed the street. Inside the cafes and bars, tables were packed with friends and families typical of the season. Most venues offered live music, the Café had piano and sing-alongs, the Saloon had a full band. Wandering in between was the all-men choir group, who wore Santa hats and ducked in and out of storefronts to sing Christmas carol favorites.
It was a whimsical evening of activities fit for all ages. There was the magic of Santa, the chiming of music, the practicality of Christmas deals. Plus, horses. Large Clydesdales clip-clop along the street, pulling carts full of happy kids, their breath propelling out in front of them. And who doesn’t enjoy horses?
What to Expect: Christmas Walk 2020
Christmas Walk is always held on the first Friday of December. When you join next year, be sure to come around 5 o’clock, before the roads close. Expect to wander up and down Main Street, ducking in and out of our local storefronts, or taking advantage of the many food trucks. The variety of shops all hold sales and specials, so it’s a great place to start (and finish!) your Christmas shopping. For families with kids, there are horse-drawn carriage rides until 9 pm, and Santa makes a visit.
The Festivities Continue…
In Croton, the whole world is aglow. The jungle gym is wrapped in gold, glittering above the leafy ground. There are hundreds, literally hundredsof decorations that weave around the Croton Campground for over a mile.
On the day the installation opens, there is a Christmas Tree lighting, and Santa visits with horse-drawn carriages to carry families along the track. Though the opening day offers more in terms of activity, the lights stay up until the first of January. At any time, guests are welcome to drive through and enjoy the lights for free (though donations are appreciated).
The Christmas season is one of lights, dreams, and traditions. We are fortunate to live in an area steeped in the best kind of tradition, those that reunite our community again and again. Whereever you’re from, and however you celebrate the holidays, know that you are welcome to join in with our community and make some traditions all your own.
Dates and Times
Christmas Walk in Newaygo: First Friday of December, 5:30-9
White Cloud Christmas: First Saturday of December
Croton Christmas: Second Saturday in December
Grant Christmas, Second Saturday in December
Colors of Christmas, Croton Drive-Through Lights Display. December 14-January 1st