A step back in time: Sleighbell festival upholds Victorian tradition, welcomes thousands

MANISTEE — This year’s Victorian Sleighbell Parade and Old Christmas Weekend was the largest installment yet, and it certainly showed as Manistee’s streets were packed with visitors and residents all weekend.

The traditional Victorian festival, which ran from Thursday to Sunday afternoon, was the 30th annual event. Events were planned all weekend, making it a tight schedule of holiday fun for families.

For many, the festival was a step back in time, with not only Victorian themed events and a large parade, but merchants dressed to match the era.

Rachel Brooks, event chair, said on Saturday afternoon, just before the parade started, the turnout was more than exceptional. She expected the parade’s turnout to be even more populated.

Last year, the parade saw an estimate of more than 20,000 people.

“We are expecting a large crowd tonight,” she said. “It has been busy throughout the day, and it is only going to get busier.”

Saturday boasted many fun events, like the annual Sleighbell Craft Show and Bake Sale at the Manistee High School; Santa’s Headquarters at the Manistee Municipal Marina; the “Nutcracker Ballet”; the Festival of Trees held at the Ramsdell; and more.

Cookie making, wine tasting, painting classes, a chocolate shop, a meet and greet with the Grinch and other events were also on the schedule for Saturday.

The Festival of Trees, which is held at the Ramsdell and sanctioned by the Manistee Area Chamber of

A horse and carriage ride travels down River Street during the parade. (Ashlyn Korienek/News Advocate)

A horse and carriage ride travels down River Street during the parade. (Ashlyn Korienek/News Advocate)

Commerce, had many unique entries this year.

Visitors were asked to tour all of the trees, and vote for a favorite by placing a canned good or pet food — or donate money to receive an item to vote with — at their entry of choice. The donated items went to the Manistee County Council on Again Food Pantry and Homeward Bound Animal Shelter.

Santa even stopped by the event, as well.

“It’s going amazing,” said Diana Wall, executive assistant with the Chamber. “My favorite part of this event is seeing smiling children’s faces.”

The downtown area was also buzzing on Saturday, not only with events but the carriage and pony rides were a festival favorite for families.

“It’s been going fantastic,” said Brooks. “We had extra carriage rides this year on River Street, so that’s been a big bonus that people are really enjoying. More people can do the rides now that we have the extra carriage and wagon rides.”

A new edition to Sleighbell was the Manistee County Library’s kids party, which was held at the Armory Youth Project. The event featured holiday games and prizes, along with arts and crafts.

“We are so excited to provide something different to the community,” said Julie Herringa, assistant director of the library. “We have never done this before, as far as moving a party outside of the library to accommodate more people. We hope everybody had fun; we love that Santa stopped by.”

Brooks said Friday’s Sleighbell Soup Cook-off was also a hit, and had many participants taste testing a variety of soups made by downtown merchants.

The winner was Douglas Valley’s “Kiss My Grits” and the runner up was Glenwood Market’s “Seafood Chowder.” The Ideal Kitchen’s “Chick Pot Pie” was in third place.

“The Soup Cook-off was exceptional,” Brooks said. “It was fantastic, and we had a line out the door, most of the night for the soup. Everybody really enjoyed the soup and is coming back today.”

The fun did not end until Sunday evening, as children were still able to meet Santa; the “Nutcracker Ballet” held its final show; lessons and carols were held at Trinity Lutheran Church; and more.

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Posted by Ashlyn Korienek

Ashlyn is the cops & courts and city reporter for the Manistee News Advocate. You can reach her at (231) 398-3109 or akorienek@pioneergroup.com

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