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Christmas festivities for all ages swarm Metro Detroit


The holiday season in Metro Detroit and beyond flies into high gear Thursday when Santa Claus arrives along Woodward Avenue at the end of the annual America's Thanksgiving Parade. And while the calendar is crowded with yuletide festivities over the next four weeks, we're here to help you sort through the excess with our list of the 12 must-do traditions in southeast Michigan.

Wild Lights at the Zoo

Christmas lights rock in general, of course, but they're particularly punchy when they sketch out something recognizable — like a giraffe, say. This year "Wild Lights" at the Detroit Zoo features more than five million LED lights on trees and buildings, and over 100 animal light sculptures you'll encounter while following a trail through the front half of the zoo.

But that's just the start. There's also holiday entertainment for kids of all ages, including a musical light show, ice carving, the Wildlife Photographer of the Year exhibition and "The Polar Express 4-D Experience," a 14-minute adaptation of the Tom Hanks film that will be shown exclusively during Wild Lights at the Wild Adventure Zone's 4-D Theater.

Tickets are $8 in advance for anyone 2 or over, and $10 at the gate. The "Wild Lights" will be sparkling Fri.-Sun., Dec. 5-7, Dec. 11-14, Dec. 18-23 and Dec. 26-31. Tickets are available at, at the zoo's main admissions gate, as well as at all Kroger stores. (248) 541-5717,

Michael H. Hodges

Historic mansions lit up for holidays

Two of Metro Detroit's most historic auto mogul mansions are decorated and open for special holiday events. The 1928 Edsel & Eleanor Ford House in Grosse Pointe Shores presents a "Winter Wonderland" 5-8 p.m. every Friday and Saturday in December, with its outdoor gardens illuminated by luminary candles and thousands of lights for an especially cheerful walk. Guests can take a break at one of several fire pits to sip hot chocolate or mulled wine and listen to the estate's storytellers. Santa Claus is in his workshop greeting young visitors, and children can make holiday crafts to take home. Cost: $10 per person; for an extra $5 you may tour the decorated interior of the Ford estate, where holiday music will be performed. For information and tickets:

Meadow Brook Hall in Rochester opens Friday for daily Holiday Walk tours, during which you can explore the luxurious 1929 mansion and see how the Wilson and Dodge families celebrated the season. Also offered: Breakfast with Santa on Dec. 7 and 14; Supper with Santa Dec. 7; a Holiday High Tea on Dec. 9 and 16 in the Christopher Wren Dining Room; a Starlight Stroll through the grounds Dec. 11, including a strolling supper; and much more. Call 248-364-6263 or go to

Susan Whitall

Handel's Messiah

Performances of Handel's evergreen oratorio "Messiah" have been offered "forever and ever," as its famous "Hallelujah Chorus" exclaims. That's certainly the case with Ann Arbor's University Musical Society, which has been presenting "Messiah" since its inaugural season way back in 1879-80. This year, soloists include two U-M alums, countertenor David Daniels and soprano Janai Brugger. Jerry Blackstone leads the Ann Arbor Symphony Orchestra and UMS Choral Union at Hill Auditorium. 8 p.m. Dec. 6 and 2 p.m. Dec. 7. $10-$36. 734-764-2538,

The Baroque masterpiece is also a holiday mainstay at downtown Detroit's Fort Street Presbyterian Church, where the heavenly choruses have been raising the rafters since 1979 at the 1855 Gothic Revival edifice. Ed Kingins conducts the Fort Street Chorale and Chamber Orchestra. 7:30 p.m. Dec. 6 and 3 p.m. Dec. 7. $20. 313-961-4533,

Other noteworthy performances include the Metropolitan Detroit Chorale under the direction of Pasquale A. Pascaretti at the Macomb Center for the Performing Arts in Clinton Township. 3 p.m. Dec. 14. $15-$25. 586-286-2222, Also, Music Director Scott Hanoian leads the forces of the Christ Church Chorale, Soloists and Orchestra at Christ Grosse Pointe. 4:30 p.m. Dec. 14. $25. 313-885-4841,

If Handel heard "Too Hot to Handel," a jazz/gospel/blues take on "Messiah," he would probably flip his powdered wig, but the annual presentation at the Detroit Opera House has developed a following. Suzanne Mallare Acton leads the Rackham Symphony Choir with soloists including Rodrick Dixon. 7:30 p.m. Dec. 6. From $54. 313-237-SING,

George Bulanda

Noel Night in Midtown

It would scarcely be the holidays in Detroit without a community sing-along with the Salvation Army Band in front of the Detroit Institute of Arts late on a frosty evening. But never fear — the 42nd annual Noel Night will offer all sorts of opportunities to warm up, with 70 Midtown institutions, from the DIA to the Charles H. Wright Museum of African American History, opening their doors free of charge for all sorts of revelry. Shop! Make crafts! And enjoy performances by 200 music, theater and dance groups ranging from Reverend Billy & the Stop Shopping Choir at the Garden Theater, to Jeffery Broussard & the Creole Cowboys at the First Congregational Church.

This open house all across the Cultural Center runs from 5 p.m. - 10 p.m. Saturday, Dec. 6. Just park your car, and then take the free Noel Night shuttle that will ferry the merry from venue to venue.

Michael Hodges

Wayne County Lightfest

The annual Lightfest in Wayne County's Hines Park features nearly 50 animated holiday-themed light displays along a winding stretch of the parkway. At the end of the illuminated trail, stop into Santa's Workshop to meet the big guy (through Dec. 23). If you're in a hurry, you can drop off your letter to him at a giant mailbox. 6-10 p.m. Fri.-Sun. and 7-10 p.m. Mon.-Thurs. through Dec. 31 (except Dec. 25). $5 per vehicle. Merriman and Hines, Westland. (734) 261-1990.

Melody Baetens

The Nutcracker

To many, missing "The Nutcracker" would be akin to Christmas without a tree. Tchaikovsky's 1892 ballet confection about a little girl named Clara and her Christmas Eve adventures comes to the Detroit Opera House with BalletMet Columbus kicking up its heels in five performances. Matinees will be especially sweet for kids, with live reindeer, photos with Santa and the Nutcracker as well as a Sugar Plum Parade. A kid-friendly buffet ($11) precedes the show. With the Michigan Opera Theatre Orchestra. Fri.-Sun. $25-$83. 313-274-SING,

Members of the Macomb Ballet Company turn into dancing mice, snowflakes and sugar-plum fairies in four performances of the beloved ballet at the Macomb Center for the Performing Arts. Dec. 12-13, $12-$15. 586-286-2222,

George Bulanda

Campus Martius

Detroit's downtown meeting spot may well be the most festive patch in all of the city.

The annual tree lighting ceremony — begun 11 years ago and held the week before Thanksgiving — ushers in the holiday season at Campus Martius. Slip on a pair of ice skates and join the fun on the park's rink, surrounded by sparkling trees and streetlights and illuminated skyscrapers. Christmas carols and holiday staples blaring from rink speakers add to the merriment. Warm up with hot chocolate from one of the tent stands.

This year look for Showcase D'Holidays. Each weekend through Christmas, local bands and entertainers will perform and a host of restaurants — including The Whitney, Slows Bar-B-Q, Ottava Via and La Feria — will sell some of their best fare from a large heated tent on Cadillac Square.


Greg Tasker

Rochester's lights

Rochester doesn't get lit up like a Christmas tree; Christmas trees get lit up like Rochester.

The city's "Big, Bright Lights Show" illuminates Rochester with more than 1 million lights every night through Jan. 4. It's the ninth year of the show, which brings people from around Metro Detroit to "The Roch," as locals call it, to see the light display that makes the historic downtown glow.

Buildings along Main Street are outfitted with rows of dangling lights, each in a solid color, and are lit up from 5 p.m.-midnight daily, making the city look like a collection of Lite Brite houses. (Kids who don't know what Lite Brites are: Ask your parents.)

The show, which takes several months to prepare, is not only beautiful to look at, but it has also helped kick up business in downtown stores. The first year, in 2006, businesses reported a 29 percent uptick in sales, and steady annual increases afterward.

Go on foot or go by car; just listen to Kanye West's "All of the Lights" while you're there.

Adam Graham

Holiday Nights at Greenfield Village

If you're yearning to simplify Christmas and spend a few hours away from shopping madness, take an evening stroll along the lantern-lit streets of Greenfield Village. Even on a frigid night, you'll be warmed by the glow of fires and wood- and coal-burning stoves at many historic homes, the aroma of holiday fare being prepared and the sounds of costumed carolers.

Experience 200 years' worth of diverse American holiday celebrations firsthand, as each of the village's historic homes will be decorated to reflect the traditions of its time. Greens and a variety of period-appropriate Christmas trees will dress the homes of Henry Ford, the Wright Brothers, Noah Webster and other village buildings. Costumed re-enactors will prepare the holiday delicacies of the period in demonstration kitchens at several buildings, while roasted chestnuts, roast beef sandwiches and other snacks will be available on the street.

Adding to the merriment are an ice skating rink, greens and Christmas tree markets. The night culminates with a group sing-along and a fireworks show. With a separate ticket you can also feast on a traditional holiday dinner at the Eagle Tavern, or have "Supper With Santa" at Taste of History, before the main festivities begin.

Holiday Nights take place from 6:30 p.m.-10 p.m. Dec. 5-7, 12-14, 18-23, and 26-27. Admission is adults, $22; children 5-12, $16.

Patrick Dunn

Holiday concerts

There's Christmas music, which you can hear in every store and every car from now until the new year.

Then there's live Christmas music — Christmas-themed concerts from artists who make annual visits to spread holiday cheer and sing some of your favorite holiday songs.

There is no shortage of the latter this year, with plenty of concerts for families or couples to take in on the cozy nights all season. The Fox Theatre has three upcoming Christmas shows: Karen Newman's annual holiday outing (Dec. 3), Kenny Rogers' Christmas extravaganza (Dec. 6) and Mannheim Steamroller (Dec. 7), which is celebrating its 30th anniversary Christmas tour.

For a more rockin' holiday, guitarist Gary "Ho! Ho!" Hoey is presenting his "Rockin' Holiday Show" at Detroit's City Theatre (Dec. 6-7), and Trans-Siberian Orchestra brings its annual parade of pyrotechnics and holiday madness to the Palace of Auburn Hills Dec. 27.

And if you like a little horror-rap with your holidays, Detroit's two biggest purveyors of face-painted hip-hop are staging Christmas shows too. Twiztid's first annual Twiztmas Party will be held at Pontiac's Crofoot Ballroom Dec. 6 (bonus: it's free!), while Insane Clown Posse's annual Big Ballas Xmas Party goes down at Saint Andrew's Hall on Dec. 20.

Adam Graham

Detroit Santarchy

A holiday tradition for Metro Detroit barflies, Santarchy is a raucous, bus-driven bar crawl that implores folks to dress up like disheveled Santas, Mrs. Clauses, reindeer, elves and other holiday icons. The bus route varies each year, but many of the bars on the path are in Detroit proper, particularly Corktown. Detroit Santarchy is Dec. 20 this year. No details have been announced yet, except that tickets are only available the day of the event. Keep an eye on for updates.

Melody Baetens

Holiday Day Trips

The village of Holly, in northern Oakland County, goes back in time to the 19th century for its 41st Annual Dickens Old Fashioned Christmas Festival. Each weekend from Thanksgiving until Dec. 13-14 (1-8 p.m. Saturdays and 1-5 p.m. Sundays), the village is decked out in Victorian style; town criers stalk the streets and street performers depict famous fictional characters out of Dickens's works such as Ebenezer Scrooge, the curmudgeon from "A Christmas Carol" (best give him a wide berth on the street). There is caroling as well as chestnuts roasting, and all the shops, many of them antique emporiums, will be open and ready for holiday shopping.

Further up I-75 is Frankenmuth, "Michigan's Little Bavaria," where you can explore the way Christmas is celebrated in that German state. The town's festivities start with a Nov. 28 Holiday Celebration & Candlewalk, at which visitors can enjoy free hot chocolate and cookies, listen to Christmas carols, talk to Santa and watch the lighting of the community Christmas tree. And of course, Frankenmuth is the home of the world's largest Christmas store, Bronner's, where the holiday is in full force all year. Santa arrives at Bronner's Nov. 28, and visits daily until Christmas.

Susan Whitall