Unheralded Holiday Traditions

Photo by Jacob Raab

Time-honored customs emerge more during the holidays than at any other time of the year. Tree lightings, gingerbread houses in all shapes and sizes, night-time parades, leaving cookies and milk (or beer and pretzels) for Santa and many other traditions take place across the nation. What you may not know is some towns and cities in the Northwest have their own conventions that do not resemble any of the above. Here’s a rundown of some you might want to attend.

Bozeman Ice Fest, Bozeman, MT | December 11-15, 2019

When Mother Nature gifts you with snow and ice in early winter, why not take advantage of the climate. That’s what Bozemanites have been doing for the past 23 years. They call the occasion the Bozeman Ice Festival, which has drawn an average of 3,000 participants in recent years.

Much of this festival focuses on ice climbing and picking up that skill from world class athletes who teach clinics during the event. This year’s promoter, Kevin Dean, says that people who have learned how to ice climb at the fest have gone on to conquer mountains around the world.

Novice and seasoned ice climbers also have a chance to learn the latest techniques and preview new gear at Ice Fest.

Besides participating in snow sports, attendees can also attend a film festival, hear speakers, go to parties and just otherwise indulge in this yearly gathering of the outdoor community. Downtown Bozeman is decked out for the holidays and almost always has a fresh coat of snow. bozemanicefest.com

Tuba Christmas, Boise, ID | December 7, 2019

Tuba Christmas takes place in most states, but not many of these performances occur in the hallowed halls of the Capitol Rotunda. Boise’s annual Tuba Christmas is a concert that celebrates musicians, instructors and composers for instruments in the tuba family.

Amateur and professional tuba and euphonium (like a small tuba) players from middle schools, high schools, colleges and beyond gather earlier in the day to practice the holiday songs they will be playing for the public in the afternoon. About 300 people usually attend this free concert. Most of these musicians have never played together before, so to come together with a skilled performance is quite an accomplishment. Why not kick off the holidays with some brassy cheer?

If you’d like to participate and play your instrument at Tuba Christmas, consult the website for details. music.boisestate.edu/tubachristmas

Holiday Ale Festival, Portland, OR | December 4-8, 2019

Portland goes by the nickname Beervana, so it’s a given that a holiday ale festival would be held there. This celebration of the beverage began as the Winter Ale Festival in 1995, way before craft beer made its debut. This year marks the 24th annual fest. (The celebration took a year off in 1997, if you’re trying to do the math.)

Now the affair showcases and celebrates the darker, maltier and higher alcohol-content beers that are commonly served in the winter, says Chris Crabb, who heads media relations for the event.

“The Holiday Ale Festival has asked its participants to create or blend a beer or cider specifically for the event, making it one of the best lineups of winter beers and ciders anywhere in the nation, says Crabb. “We usually have over 50 craft beers, ciders and meads.”

Even though December is one of the coldest months of the year, festival guests stay warm and dry under clear-topped tents that cover the venue at Pioneer Courthouse Square. Beneath the boughs of the region’s largest decorated Christmas tree, gas heaters also contribute to everyone’s comfort. A second level, above the main floor, dubbed the Sky Bar, serves additional taps and provides room for attendees to relax and watch the revelers below.

The Holiday Ale Festival is for those 21 and over and includes meet-the-brewers, a root beer garden, food vendors, beer pairings with cheese and a raffle to raise funds for the Children’s Cancer Association. It’s estimated that 14,000 people will attend during this five-day event. holidayale.com

Christmas Ship Festival, Seattle, WA | November 29 – December 23, 2019

Like Portland’s focus on beer, Seattle has long been known for boating on its numerous waterways. In November that emphasis turns to a night-time parade of boats that visits 65 waterfront communities during the season. These boats, festooned with colored lights, are led by the “Spirit of Seattle,” Argosy Cruises’ lead vessel. (Argosy operates Seattle’s signature marine sight-seeing service.)

Started in 1949, this Northwest tradition can now be experienced in three different ways. You can board the “Spirit of Seattle” at Pier 55 on the Seattle Waterfront for a two- to three-hour cruise. You’ll be treated to melodies sung by the choir of the evening on board, photos with Santa, a kid’s area to keep them entertained and the general camaraderie of fellow revelers. Or you can wear your ugliest Christmas sweater and embark on one of the follow boats for merrymaking with those 21 and over. Play games, sing carols and listen to the broadcast coming from the choir on the “Spirit of Seattle.” Or you can simply watch from the shore, which is free. At all the locales where the parade of boats stops, people make bonfires to keep everyone warm. Bundle up and enjoy the choir’s performance from your preferred beach or stop at several.

Elin Windus, spokesperson for Argosy, says not to worry about tickets selling out before November 1. The most popular nights—opening night, finale night, Parade of Boats on December 13 and Saturdays—may sell out, but there will be plenty of space on most other nights. With the follow boats, Argosy starts the season with six and then adds more if there’s a demand. argosycruises.com/argosy-cruises/christmas-ship-festival

Deck the Doors, Langley, WA | November 28 – December 31, 2019

Artists tap into unconventional creativity when it comes to decorating the doors and exteriors of the shops in this cozy seaside village. With the added challenge of keeping the décor weatherproof, their goal is to create an outdoor art gallery downtown that gives visitors and locals inspiring ambience. They can shop, eat and stroll and leave with a warm and fuzzy feeling about the holidays, according to Michaleen McGarry, executive director of the Langley Main Street Association.

The merchants can win one of three $1,000 prizes for their beautifying efforts. A secret panel of judges decides first, second and third place. Then in mid-December “Rain Dears” in festive garb and the mayor in a tuxedo drive around in a holiday-themed shuttle and hand out the awards.

The Village by the Sea, Langley, is already magical, but becomes absolutely enchanting during the holidays. Pick up some one-of-a-kind gifts for the special someone(s) on your shopping list. langleymainstreet.org