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Metro Detroit lights up with holiday celebrations

Greg Tasker
The Detroit News

December is here, and we’re back to the hustle and bustle of the holidays — the endless shopping, seasonal parties and family gatherings, the usual Yuletide obligations that fill our calendars. Lucky for us, in Metro Detroit, there’s a wealth of festivities, the traditional and unusual, to help you escape the bah humbug and embrace the season.

One of the biggest events — Noel Night — kicks off the season Saturday in Midtown Detroit with a multitude of indoor and outdoor activities centered around the city’s Cultural Center. The free event offers everything from shopping to carriage rides to a community sing-along.

For a more low-key but no less festive affair, immerse yourself in the holidays of centuries past with a stroll through lantern-lit Greenfield Village during the annual Holiday Nights. Fox News, USA Today and Reader’s Digest have named the program as a Top Holiday Event — for good reason. Or for a glimpse of a more upscale, elaborate Christmas, tour one of the auto baron homes, trimmed to the nines.

Noel Night in Midtown kicks off the holiday festivities

From performances of “The Nutcracker” to Noel Night, you’ll find plenty of holiday activities, truly something for everyone. Concerts, plays, extravagant light displays and Santa-related activities abound.

Here’s a (by no means all-inclusive) selection of some of the best holiday events in Metro Detroit:

Home for the Holidays

Walking through an illuminated Greenfield Village at Christmas time is like stepping into a Currier and Ives holiday print.

During this year’s Holiday Nights, you can learn about how traditions have evolved to those we celebrate today. If you want to know the origins of drinking hot chocolate, pop into the Giddings Family Home, a grand house from mid-18th century New Hampshire. Popular stocking stuffers will be on display from the J.R. Jones General Store, and the early days of Christmas being recognized as a national holiday are examined at the Ford Home, Edison Homestead and Sarah Jordan’s Boarding House.

Cooking demonstrations, ice skating, carolers and food stations offering hot chocolate, hot cider, roasted chestnuts and more can be found throughout the village. Santa and his reindeer will be stationed at the Robert Frost home. The evening culminates with a lantern procession, fireworks and carol singalong at Town Hall.

This season Holiday Nights has been extended to 18 days from 16 (and the number of nights following Christmas to four from three).

Above: Carolers are among the activities, including ice skating and tours, going on at Greenfield Village during Holiday Nights.

Holiday Nights, Greenfield Village: 6:30-10 p.m. Fri.-Sun., Dec. 9-11, 16-18, 20-23, 26-30. $26 adults; $19.50 youth. 20900 Oakwood Blvd., Dearborn. (313) 982-6001.

More historic tours:

Holiday Walk, Meadow Brook: Explore the 110-room Tudor-revival style mansion decked out for the season and filled with special exhibits celebrating childhood treasures. 11 a.m.-5 p.m. daily, through Dec. 22; $20 adults; $5 children under 17. 480 S. Adams Road, Rochester. (248) 364-6200.

Holiday Tours, The Ford House: Eleanor Ford’s custom-made vintage ornaments and glowing candles are among the holiday decor at the refined mansion of Edsel and Eleanor Ford, designed by Albert Kahn. 10 a.m.-4 p.m. Tues.-Sat., noon-4 p.m. Sunday, through Jan. 4; $12 adults, $8 children ages 6-12. 1100 Lake Shore Road, Grosse Pointe Shores. (313) 884-4222.

City Street Lights

Hines Drive in western Wayne County is home to the Midwest’s largest holiday light show: Wayne County Lightfest.

A 4.5-mile stretch of the winding road includes 55 themed displays, everything from a large animated Christmas tree to an American flag, using more than 100,000 lights. Displays are upgraded each year, and this season a canoe scene and snowflakes were added. The annual event marks its 23rd year and draws about 250,000 spectators.

“Families love it. It’s become a tradition for a lot of families to go every year and it brings in people from across the region,” says Kaye Byrd, a spokeswoman for the Wayne County Department of Public Services. “It’s pretty awesome.”

Santa’s Workshop will again be located at Warrendale Park, near the end of the display. Feel free to pop in and visit Santa or drop off a letter.

Michelle Kuczmarski, a Wayne County resident who has attended Lightfest for 17 years, said: “Over the years my children have been awestruck by the Lightfest displays and each year gets better with new attractions to enjoy. As a family, we look forward to Lightfest because it is a great time for us to bond during the holiday season. Lightfest really is a beautiful experience.”

Left: About 55 themed displays are lighting up the 4.5-mile winding road of the Wayne County Lightfest.

Wayne County Lightfest: 7-10 p.m. Mon.-Thurs., 6-10 p.m. Fri.-Sun., through Dec. 31. $5 per vehicle (cash only). Entrance at Hines Drive and Merriman, Westland. (734) 261-1990.

Other light shows:

Wild Lights at the Detroit Zoo: Some 5 million lights illuminate trees and buildings on the grounds of the zoo. Entertainment, arts and crafts and photo shoots with Santa are among the festivities. 5:30-9 p.m., Dec. 1-4, 8-11, 15-23, 26-31. $13 at the gate (children under 2 are free), $6 parking. 8450 W. 10 Mile, Royal Oak. (248) 541-5717.

The Big, Bright Light Show, downtown Rochester: Downtown Rochester is draped in colorful lights, more than 1 million. Truly spectacular. 5 p.m.-midnight daily, through Jan. 1. Free. Main Street, Rochester.

More than 1 million bulbs illumniate Rochester’s light show.

Yuletide Plays

What better way to embrace the meaning of the season — think goodwill and charity — than to see a production of the Charles Dickens classic, “A Christmas Carol.”

The inaugural run of this Wayne State Theatre Department production opens Friday at the 1,100-seat Bonstelle Theatre in Midtown. The production includes a cast of 60 undergraduate and graduate theater students. The script was adapted from the 19th-century story by John Wolf, chairman of the Wayne State Department of Theatre and Dance who is also the play’s producer and lighting director.

“It’s a great story that I think that no matter how you feel beforehand, you come out feeling better,” Wolf says. “It’s a timely story about the horrors of greed and the revelation that giving is ultimately the theme of ‘A Christmas Carol’ and how much we gain from giving to others and looking after others.”

The production has teamed with Gleaners Community Food Bank; any adult who purchases a ticket and donates two canned goods will enable a child to see the play for free.

“It’s another way to strengthen our ties to the community, promote Gleaners and spread goodwill, as the story tells us to do,” Wolf says.

It is Wolf’s hope that this production will become a Yuletide tradition for Wayne State’s theater students and the community. Previous productions have strayed from the original Dickens story.

“This does not stray from the original,” Wolf says. “This is a spectacular event. We’ve added projections to help augment the magic ... and we’ve brought in a sound designer from the outside to create a beautiful soundscape. There’s a lot of music in this production that underscores and guides us through as well. It should be a lovely, lovely production.”

“A Christmas Carol,” Bonstelle Theatre: 7 p.m. Fri., 3 and 8 p.m. Sat., 3 p.m. Sun., through Dec. 18. $25 and up. Bonstelle Theatre, 3424 Woodward, Detroit. (313) 577-2972.

Other Christmas stories:

“A Christmas Carol,” Meadow Brook Theatre: 7 p.m. Thurs., 8 p.m. Fri., 2 and 6:30 p.m. Sat.-Sun., through Dec. 23. $35 and up. Oakland University, 207 Wilson Hall, Rochester. (248) 377-3300.

“A Christmas Story,” Fox Theatre: Nine-year-old Ralphie Parker’s holiday quest for a Red Ryder air rifle in song. Various times, Dec. 20-24. $58 and up. Fox Theatre, 2211 Woodward, Detroit. (313) 471-3200.

“A Christmas Story” plays at the Fox Theatre, Dec. 20-24.

Yuletide Carols

Here’s an unusual, though no less merry, holiday concert: Merry TubaChristmas.

Every year, here and around the globe, tuba and euphonium players gather to celebrate the season and play Christmas carols. If the tuba seems an unlikely instrument to play those familiar holiday tunes, think again. Special arrangements have been made.

Detroit’s Merry TubaChristmas will be held at noon Dec. 17 at Central United Methodist Church in downtown Detroit. Some 50 players from the region and beyond will perform both the familiar and unfamiliar (such as “Santa Wants A Tuba For Christmas”). The event is free and the audience can expect to join in a singalong.

“The idea behind this is that the tuba kind of gets neglected,” says Jim Bull, an organizer of the Detroit event, who is a vocalist, not a tuba player. “It’s a chance to showcase that the tuba could do more than Oompah, Oompah in the background. The tuba plays all the parts of the Christmas carol. It’s fun event and gives people some Christmas cheer.”

The first Merry TubaChristmas was held in New York City at Rockefeller Center’s ice rink in 1974. The event was created to pay tribute to the late tubist William J. Bell (born on Christmas Day 1902) and “to all the great artists/teachers.” Merry TubaChristmas concerts are performed throughout Michigan.

Merry TubaChristmas, Detroit: noon Dec. 17. Free. Central United Methodist Chruch, 23 E. Adams, Detroit. (313) 965-5422. Also, 2 p.m. Sunday at Farmers Market and Kerrytown Shops, Ann Arbor, and 1 p.m. Dec. 10, Varner Hall, Oakland University, Rochester Hills.

Merry TubaChristmas returns with familiar holiday tunes.

More concerts:

Too Hot to Handel: A jazz-gospel version of Handel’s classic “Messiah,” a holiday tradition in the Motor City. 7:30 p.m. Dec. 10. $33 and up. Detroit Opera House, 1526 Broadway, Detroit. (313) 237-7464.

A Winter Fantasy: Holiday music by the Michigan Opera Theatre Children’s Chorus. 3 p.m. Dec. 11. $30 and up, adults; $15 ages 5-17. Detroit Opera House, 1526 Broadway, Detroit. (313) 237-7464.

Home for the Holiday: The Detroit Symphony Orchestra’s annual musical tradition, with carols and classics. Various times, Dec. 16-18, $19 and up. Orchestra Hall, 3711 Woodward , Detroit. (313) 576-5111.

Greg Tasker is a Metro Detroit-based freelance writer.

Christmas Cheer

For an extensive listing of holiday events in Metro Detroit, go to: