TRAVERSE CITY — If you’ve never driven the 65 miles southwest to Manistee for the city’s Victorian Sleighbell Parade & Old Christmas Weekend there’s an extra reason to make the trip this year.
The festival’s 25th anniversary weekend, Dec. 5-8, coincides with the reopening of the historic Vogue Theatre.
“People have been dying for the Vogue Theatre to reopen and it’s finally happening, so there’s a lot of buzz out there,” said theater manager Travis Alden, who will help preside over a ceremonial lighting of the Vogue marquee at 10 a.m. Saturday. “There’s a whole lot of people who haven’t seen this theater in years.”
Theater open house tours, free family movies and first-run paid screenings will accompany dozens of Old Christmas Weekend activities today through Sunday. Highlights include a gingerbread house contest, period carolers, concerts, gaslight tours of the historic Babcock House, a 140-vendor craft show and the signature Victorian Sleighbell Parade down River Street.
“It’s a long, slow parade because there’s no motorized vehicles,” said Kathryn Kenny, executive director of the Manistee County Visitors Bureau. “There’s horses and animals, everyone in the parade dresses in Victorian costume, and a dog sled team kicks off the parade.”
Bringing up the rear is the Community Christmas Tree, pulled on a sleigh by logger Larry Reed and his team of Belgian horses. Because of injuries he sustained in a logging accident this summer, the 75-year-old Reed is passing on the reins he’s held for more than 20 years to son, Ben, this year. Larry will preside over the parade as grand marshal instead, Kenny said.
“When the tree passes, everyone falls in and follows it to the west end of River Street and Fountain Plaza,” where the tree is lit for a community Christmas-carol sing, Kenny said. Caroling will be followed by fireworks for the second time in the parade’s history.
Kenny recommends that visitors arrive downtown at about 3 p.m. Saturday to enjoy the festive atmosphere including roasted chestnuts, street musicians and fresh pine bough decorations. Shopkeepers will dress in period costumes and pass out treats, and a handbell choir will wind its way through area stores and restaurants. The parade begins at 5:30 p.m.
The Victorian Sleighbell Parade & Old Christmas Weekend is hosted by the Manistee Mainstreet Downtown Development Authority with the help of scores of volunteers, Kenny said. The four-day weekend — traditionally the first weekend in December — brings in as many as 10,000 visitors and thousands of dollars in business in the area.
“This year the draw is the 25th annual sleighbell festival and we’ve had such coverage of it we’ve been getting inquiries from Texas and Kansas,” said Kenny, referring to media coverage including a spread in the December issue of Midwest Living magazine. “It’s one of those festivals that showcase our storybook town. The Vogue Theatre is the icing on the cake, along with all our fabulous restaurants and shops.”
Alden said the $2.4 million renovation of the 1938 theater won’t be “100 percent done” in time for this weekend. But one of its two theaters will be all but complete, and its historically accurate neon signage and new popcorn machine — just like the State Theatre’s in downtown Traverse City — will be in place.
“The part that won’t be done is the neon wrap that goes around the building, and the lobby,” he said. “And some of our equipment isn’t quite here on time. Essentially this weekend we’re going old-school,” with rolled tickets and concessions dolled out at banquet tables.
Alden said the art deco theater features a deep red, blue and gold palette pulled from the original 1930s color scheme, tray ceilings, a “Casablanca” lobby corner complete with high-top tables and bar stools, and comfortable, updated theater seats.
“They’re essentially the same seats as in the State Theatre — the same color and shape and size, just different fabric,” he said.
The theater will have raised more than $2.1 million toward its $2.4 million goal once a $100,000 anonymous donation made on the eve of opening weekend is matched.
For more information on theater programming, visit www.voguetheatremanistee.org. For more about the Victorian Sleighbell Parade & Old Christmas Weekend, see www.visitmanisteecounty.com.
If you go Park at First Street Beach and take the Trolley to the Sleighbell events in downtown Manistee. Or just flag the Trolley down for a ride along the Sleighbell route, which includes stops at First Street Beach, Maple and River Streets and the Dial-a-Ride building at Veteran's Memorial Drive and Washington Street. Dial-a-Ride will be open for warming and its bathrooms available for public use. Today • Ramsdell Theatre Tours, 1-4 p.m., Ramsdell Theatre • In Vogue Brass Ensemble, 6-7 p.m., under Vogue Marquee • Special Event: "Visions of Sugar Plums" student art show, 6-8:30 p.m., Ramsdell Theatre Hardy Hall • Special Event: "It's a Wonderful Life, 7:30 p.m., Ramsdell Theatre (tickets: 800-836-0717) Saturday • "Pay What You Can" Christmas Tree Sale, 8 a.m.-1 p.m., Manistee Inn & Marina • Sleighbell Craft Show & Bazaar, 9 a.m.-4 p.m., Manistee High School • Victorian Gingerbread House Contest, 10 a.m.-3 p.m., Downtown River Street Merchants • Jingle Bell Jog, 10 a.m., Kennedy School • Historic River Street Merchant Open House, 10 a.m.-8 p.m. • Lumberjack Luncheon, 11 a.m.-2 p.m., 412 4th Street • Horsedrawn Carriage Rides, noon-4 p.m., Downtown River Street • Michigan Audubon Chickadee Christmas, 10 a.m.-2 p.m., Lake Bluff Bird Sanctuary • Open House, noon-2 p.m., St. Paul Lutheran Church • Historic Manistee Firehouse Tours, 1-4 p.m., 281 First Street • Special Event: "Visions of Sugar Plums" Student Art Show, 1-9 p.m., Ramsdell Theatre Hardy Hall • In Vogue Brass Ensemble, 2 p.m., under Vogue Marquee • Santa's Arrival, 2-4 p.m., 351 River Street • Meet the Sled Dog Team, 2:30-5 p.m., Downtown River Street • Vogue Theatre Welcome Center, 3-5 p.m., Vogue Theatre • Manistee Community Band Christmas Concert, 4 p.m., Downtown River Street • Hot Drinks & Cool Treats, 4-8 p.m., Manistee Senior Center • Jingle Mingle, 4:30-9 p.m., Ramsdell Inn • Muskegon Regional Police Pipes & Drums, 4:30-5 p.m., Poplar & River Streets • Victorian Sleighbell Parade, 5:30 p.m., followed by tree lighting, carols and fireworks, Downtown River Street • Gaslight Guided Tour of Babcock House, 7-9 p.m., 420 Third Street • Jingle Bell Jam, 7 p.m., Eagles Club • Santa's Headquarters, 7 p.m., 351 River Street • Special Event: "It's a Wonderful Life," 7:30 p.m., Ramsdell Theatre (tickets: 800-836-0717) Sunday • Men's Club Breakfast, 8:30 a.m.-1:30 p.m., St. Joseph Parish Hall • Victorian Church Service, 10 a.m., First Congregational Church • Craft Sale, 10 a.m.-4 p.m., Manistee Inn & Marina • Photos with Santa Paws, 1-4 p.m., Parkdale Animal Hospital • Special Event: "Visions of Sugar Plums" Student Art Show, 1-5 p.m., Ramsdell Theatre Hardy Hall • Special Event: "It's a Wonderful Life," 2 p.m., Ramsdell Theatre (tickets: 800-836-0717) • Santa's Headquarters, 2-5 p.m., 351 River Street • A Service of Lessons and Carols, 3 p.m., Trinity Lutheran Church -- Source: Manistee County Visitors Bureau