The first snow of winter has fallen and there is a crisp bite to the air in west Oakland County. The turkey, stuffing and mashed potatoes were packed into hungry bellies on Thanksgiving. Black Friday has come and gone. Now the holiday season officially begins, and communities throughout the lakes area are gearing up for their annual Christmas tree lighting ceremonies — some small, some large, but all of them festive and family-friendly.
What follows is a look at the area’s municipal Christmas tree lighting ceremonies, a Menorah lighting event, as well as other holiday events coming to several west Oakland County communities.
WHITE LAKE TOWNSHIP
White Lake Township’s Community Tree Lighting event, which is the largest and one of the most anticipated in the lakes area, will be held from 6 to 8 p.m. on Wednesday, Dec. 5, at the Village Lakes Shopping Center at Elizabeth Lake Road and M-59.
This year’s tree lighting is expected to draw between 1,500 and 2,000 people throughout the two-hour event, according to Jim Runestad, an Oakland County commissioner whose district includes White Lake and Waterford townships and the co-chairman of the event.
Started many years ago by former White Lake Treasurer Beverly Spoor, the annual tree lighting has always and still is key to helping connect new residents, said former co-chair Steve Martinko, president of Contender’s Tree and Lawn Specialists in White Lake.
The event also serves to synergize the business community with the public by providing a fun and energetic atmosphere, he said.
“Without Village Lakes’ participation and organization, this event would have never been able to become what it is today, and a special thanks goes to all of our sponsors and in memory of Richard Gershenson, who envisioned a way for the community come together and unite for the holiday season,” Martinko said. “It’s because of generous business participation that great prizes and giveaways are donated during the tree lighting ceremony.
“Those of use who have served on the committee take great pride in the smiles on kids’ faces and the joy seen with both parents and grand-parents.”
Earlier this year, Martinko and former event co-chair Julie Strong, director at Gershenson Realty and Investment, stepped down from the organizing committee.
Runestad and Linda Hanneman, manager of Genisys Credit Union in White Lake, stepped up to co-chair the event in an effort to keep it from being canceled.
In September, Runestad put the word out that the organizing committee was in desperate need of volunteers to help keep the event an annual tradition. Since then, he said at least 15 people have volunteered and others in the community have come together to help continue the event.
“We are really pleased,” Runestad said. “It was questionable whether we were going to have it this year. Due to The Spinal Column and Patch, we ended up getting plenty of volunteers.”
This year’s event will feature many of the same attractions as the past — including ice sculpting by Michigan Ice Carvers, live reindeer, balloon creations for kids, snacks, and of course, Santa and Mrs. Claus — but it will also include some changes.
“We are doing things completely different,” Runestad said about the children’s attractions. “The kids are going to be given cards that will get punched at each of the craft stations. When they get through everything, we give them a bracelet that says, ‘White Lake Tree Lighting.’”
Roasted marshmallows, s’mores, crafts and kettle corn for kids will be provided for free. This year’s event will feature two balloon stations for children.
“The balloons get very swamped,” Runestad said. “Last year, (the person manning the only balloon station) was just mobbed, so we are going to have two stations this year.”
Holiday carols will be performed by choirs from Rochester College and White Lake Middle School, while students from The Art of Dance will also perform. The White Lake Goodfellows will collect canned goods for people in need.
This year’s event will also feature a coloring contest for children that will feature a Christmas tree set at the nearby Fisk Farm — where the township’s tree lighting event will be relocated to for 2013 and beyond. Runestad said the winner of the coloring contest will have his or her creation featured as next year’s tree lighting event logo.
Click on the link below to download the coloring contest sheet. Then, print the sheet at the standardized size of 8.5-by-7-inches and drop off the colored sheet at the White Lake Township Library, 7527 E. Highland Road, by Tuesday, Dec. 4. The winners in each age group will be announced at the tree lighting event. Children 12 and under are eligible.
Scott Rolando, who announces athletic games for area schools and is a teacher and the student activities director at Huron Valley Lakeland High School, will serve as Master of Ceremonies and get the crowd hyped up over the public address system.
“We really expect a spectacular event this year,” Runestad said.
While no specific time is set, Santa is set to arrive atop a fire truck at about 7 p.m. and will help to light the 14-foot Christmas tree, which was provided by Contenders. Photos with Santa will be available, but parents are advised to bring their own cameras.
The Highland Township Community Tree Lighting will be held from 7 to 9 p.m. on Monday, Dec. 3. The outdoor event, which is sponsored by the Highland Township Downtown Development Authority (DDA), will begin at Veteran’s Park before migrating across the street to the Highland Station House, located at 205 W. Livingston Road.
Highland DDA Executive Director Melissa Dashevich said children’s choirs from Spring Mills and Highland elementary schools will perform songs and lead the audience in caroling.
“They will summon in Santa then with a song, and he will arrive and light the tree with his holiday magic,” Dashevich said. “I hear rumors he’ll be arriving in a red convertible, weather permitting, provided by LaFontaine (Automotive Group in Highland).”
Cookies and warm cider will be served as the crowd is invited to move across the street to the Highland Station House for photos with Santa. The Huron Valley Council for the Arts (HVCA) will also be holding its Festival of Trees event during the tree lighting, featuring holiday trees decorated by area artists. The HVCA will also have artisan gifts available for purchase.
The event is expected to draw 200 to 300 people, and is a considered a family tradition for many in the community, Dashevich said.
Over the last 20 years, Walled Lake has put on its tree lighting tradition every December.
This year, the event will take place on Monday, Dec. 3 beginning at 7 p.m. in front of City Hall at 1499 E. West Maple.
“It’s a family event, a door opener for the holidays,” said Walled Lake Deputy Treasurer Jennifer Stuart.
The evening will begin with Mayor William Roberts giving a customary welcome, followed by the actual tree lighting. Santa and Mrs. Claus will sweep in on a fire truck and conduct visits with the children at the Walled Lake Fire Department bay.
“We had a big crowd last year,” Stuart said. “We light the tree up and head into the fire hall where we serve cocoa while the kids run around. The kids can get pictures taken with Santa, and of course, Mrs. Claus will be there.”
Cookies and light complementary refreshments will be served. Entertainment will be provided by Twirl-M’s Baton Twirling, and attendees can participate in caroling.
Patrons are encouraged to bring along donations for Hospitality House, including new toys, mittens, scarves, games, puzzles and books. Non-perishable foods are also encouraged for donation.
In Waterford Township, the 26th annual Tree Lighting Ceremony will run from 6 to 8 p.m. on Tuesday, Dec. 4 at Township Hall, located at 5200 Civic Center Drive.
The event will begin with new township Supervisor Gary Wall and other members of the township Board of Trustees welcoming the crowd and singing a carol.
“The tree lighting is an ongoing tradition and community event for the entire family,” said Parks and Recreation Supervisor Allison Swanson. “It’s a nice event and a lot of people show up. Just make sure you dress for the weather.”
Santa and Mrs. Claus will ride in on a fire truck and be presented with the keys to the township, courtesy of Wall.
Then the tree lighting countdown will begin.
The Oxbow Community School’s Elementary Chorus will be performing in the Civic Center Square, while the Waterford Mott High School Jazz Band is set to perform inside Township Hall throughout the event.
Refreshments will be available for purchase.
There will be free activities for children, including cookie decorating, courtesy of the Michigan Youth Flag Football League, and a craft tent, sponsored by the Waterford KinderCare.
Santa will also conduct visits with children.
Each family is encouraged to bring a canned good donation or new unwrapped toy for the Waterford Goodfellows, which will pack them in holiday baskets to be distributed to needy families in mid-December.
In addition, the Waterford Senior Center will be holding its Holiday Bazaar from Tuesday, Dec. 4 through Thursday, Dec. 6 from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m.
The event is open to the public and there is no fee for admission.
The bazaar includes a special sale by the Senior Center’s wood shop class and will showcase items from 15 craft vendors. Items for purchase range from jewelry to antique appraisals, from handmade woodwork to crochet, and from painted items to hats, scarves, and baby items.
Lunch will be served daily at noon.
For over 20 years, the city of Wixom has been holding its Tree Lighting Ceremony for the community. This year the event will be held Wednesday, Dec. 5 from 6 to 8:15 p.m. at the City Hall complex located at 49045 Pontiac Trail.
“Come join us as we see our municipal complex light up the night sky,” said Parks and Recreation Community Services Supervisor Melissa Harrison. “All are welcome to sing carols, visit with Santa, and enjoy the evening with our community.”
To kick off the festivities, the Walled Lake Western High School Band will perform holiday songs, followed by the Wixom First Baptist Church, which will get the crowd involved in caroling.
Mayor Kevin Hinkley will take center stage with opening remarks before Santa rides in on his sleigh pulled by real reindeer. Then Hinkley will begin the countdown to the tree lighting.
There will be a free stocking decoration craft event for the kids, along with a letter writing station to compose letters to Santa.
St. Matthew’s Church volunteers will also be donating their time to help during the event.
This year, holiday vendors will be lining the City Hall complex selling items such as wreaths and candles, as well as other holiday items.
Light refreshments will be served free-of-charge.
While the community rings in the holidays, community organizations are also taking the opportunity to remember those who can’t be home with loved ones this year.
The city of Wixom and the Walled Lake Eagles No. 3492 are teaming up for Operation Soldier to collect items to send to soldiers serving in Afghanistan through tomorrow, Thursday, Nov. 29.
Items on soldiers’ wish lists include: warm blankets; iTunes and phone gift cards; chapstick; toiletries; non-perishable foods; travel games; CDs and DVDs; art supplies; calendars, puzzle and word find books; notebooks; and flavored water drink packets.
Unwrapped items can be dropped off at the following locations:
• The city of Wixom Parks and Recreation counter in City Hall, 49045 Pontiac Trail, Monday through Thursday from 7:15 a.m. to 5:30 p.m.;
• The Wixom Community Center Lounge, 49015 Pontiac Trail, Monday through Thursday from 7:15 a.m. to 5:30 p.m.; and
• Walled Lake Eagles No. 3492, 1721 Glengary Road, Monday through Saturday from noon to 10 p.m.
Contact Wixom Parks and Recreation with any questions at 248-624-2850.
The Milford Business Association will be hosting its Christmas Open House in downtown Milford tomorrow, Thursday, Nov. 29 beginning at 5:45 p.m. and ending at 9 p.m.
Festivities will include performances by several different musicians, including bagpipers and caroling groups that will serenade customers in downtown Milford’s establishments.
The big arrival of Santa Claus will take place at 6 p.m. as he rides into town not on his sleigh, but rather a fire truck.
Santa will then be stationed at the Village Center Mall at 400 N. Main Street from 6 to 9 p.m. for photos.
Those who cannot see Santa during the open house are invited to come back on Thursday evenings from 6 to 8 p.m. through Dec. 20 and on Saturdays from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. through Dec. 22.
The open house will also provide nostalgic carriage rides during the event, with proceeds from the ride benefiting Community Sharing, which provides food and other services to needy families year-round.
Patrons are also invited to help Community Sharing by bringing a canned/dry food that will be loaded into a truck and delivered to the pantry.
According to the event’s coordinator, Ron Barnette, the event was started 20 to 25 years ago by the late Tom Motley, the long-time owner/operator of the Arms Brothers Men’s Clothing store on Main Street.
General village rules will apply during the event.
Also throughout the holiday season, patrons of downtown Milford’s restaurants should be on the lookout for Santa Claus at any time, as he will pick up a patron’s tab, courtesy of downtown Milford’s merchants and property owners.
Milford Village’s official website states that last year, more than 350 people had their coffee, lunches and dinners paid for by Milford’s own Santa Claus strolling through downtown.
The Huron Valley Community Chorus will then be presenting its Winter Concert on Sunday, Dec. 2 at 4 p.m. at Christ Lutheran Church, 620 General Motors Road in Milford. Advance ticket sales are available at $5 for adults, and $4 for seniors 60-years-old and older and for students. Admission at the door the day of the concert is $6 for adults and $5 for seniors and students. To order tickets, call 248-684-5684.
WEST BLOOMFIELD TOWNSHIP
The West Bloomfield Township Parks and Recreation Department will be hosting “Bowl With Santa” at Wonderland Lanes on Saturday, Dec. 1 at 1 p.m. The fee for the event is $15 for West Bloomfield residents and $17 for non-residents. Included in the cost are two games of bowling, bowling shoe rental, pizza, and soda pop.
Bowlers are also asked to bring a canned good or non-perishable item for Hospitality House in Walled Lake.
Santa Claus will also have a goody bag on hand for all youngsters in attendance.
Wonderland Lanes is located at 8265 Richardson Road, just west of the corner of Richardson and Haggerty roads, in Commerce Township.
The deadline to register for the event is tomorrow, Thursday, Nov. 29.
Those interested in participating can register by calling West Bloomfield Parks and Recreation at 248-451-1900 or by visiting the department’s website, westbloomfieldparks.org, and clicking on “online registration” at the top of the left-side column of the home page.
In addition, the Orchard Mall shopping center at the northeast corner of Orchard Lake and Maple Road will be hosting Chanukah Wonderland beginning on Sunday, Dec. 9 and ending Wednesday, Dec. 12.
The festival will be open from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. on Dec. 9, and from 10 a.m. to noon and 3 to 6 p.m. Monday, Dec. 10 through Dec. 12
The event is being presented by the Bais Chabad Torah Center, located at 5595 W. Maple Road in West Bloomfield, and admission is free for all attendees.
The highlight of the festival will be the Grand Menorah lighting on Tuesday, Dec. 11 at 5:30 p.m., in which a 13-foot Menorah will be lit.
The lighting event on Dec. 11 will also include a performance of the musical “Chanukah Lights” by the Bais Chabad Drama Club, along with a performance by the Kidz Klezmer Band.
During the festival, activities will include crafts, doughnut decorations, a game show, and a Dreidel Bounce House.
Attendees can also participate in an olive press workshop, in which olive oil is extracted from raw olives, in addition to creating their own Chanukah gemstone mugs.
Special attractions at the festival will include “Caffeine for the Soul” doughnuts and coffee on Dec. 9 at 11 a.m., a pajama and pizza story hour at 5:30 p.m. on Dec. 10, and Movie and Popcorn Night on Dec. 12 at 4:30 p.m.
For more information, visit baischabad.com and click on “Chanukah Wonderland” under the “Holiday Celebrations” tab.
Staff writers Kevin Elliott, Michael Shelton, and Leslie Shepard contributed to this report.