Manufacturing traditions isn’t easy. Changing them is even harder. In 1992, the city of Minneapolis came up with a gimmick to lure potential shoppers downtown between Thanksgiving and Christmas at an hour when most people—even “hardy” Minnesotans—would prefer not to be outside. When the Holidazzle Parade started, the idea of a nightly parade down Nicollet Mall sounded a wee bit desperate. Boosting commerce downtown was the goal; doing it every night, no matter how foreboding the cold, seemed like overkill. Yet for more than 20 years the parade endured, delighting “children of all ages,” as they say, and became a beloved tradition despite its mercenary beginnings.
Last year, the city created a minor furor—for which it issued a public apology—by scrapping the parade and shuttling people into Holidazzle Village, a supposedly “European-style” Christmas market where the spirit of the season was celebrated by charging people $6 for the privilege of standing around shoulder to shoulder on Peavey Plaza while they tried to puzzle out where that “cinnamon smell” was coming from.
Thankfully, the city’s holiday-spirit guides learned from last year’s mistakes, and have relocated Holidazzle Village to Loring Park. This was a good move, because even if you find the offerings at Holidazzle Village underwhelming, Loring Park itself is beautiful in winter, especially after a fresh dusting from the snow fairies. The city skyline makes for an attractive backdrop, and the whole scene could make the crustiest of curmudgeons start muttering unfamiliar words like “charming” and “delightful.”
The obvious flaws have been fixed. They’ve scrapped the entry fee (shuffling around shoulder to shoulder with your fellow Twin Citians is now free), and have erected a skating rink to give people something to do besides shop and eat. The layout makes it seem like there are more than 20-some food stalls, mostly because traffic goes around in a circle, so you end up passing the same tents more than once.
As tradition seems to demand, the vendors fall into two basic categories: food shacks and places to by wool hats and mittens. I’m not going to go all Rick Nelson on the food—we get enough of that kind of thing at the state fair—so let’s just say that if you are in the mood for lefse and spaetzle, you will not be disappointed, and if you want to wash it down with apple cider or beer, you will be equally pleased.
If you are in the mood for eating or drinking anything else, however, your search for sustenance may prove more challenging. The most interesting food is, ironically, served at the two tents with the least-interesting names: Meat & Mac is the place to go if you’re looking for a turkey leg to gnaw on, and at Minneapolis Street Food, the Korean Taco Bowl is the closest you’re going to get to a foodie moment. Otherwise, it’s mini donuts and lots of things sprinkled with cinnamon. (So yes, that “cinnamon smell” is everywhere.)
There is still something missing from Holidazzle Village—namely, the dazzle. There are a few twinkle lights here and there, but nothing that says: Hey, we used to have a parade with millions of colored lights in shapes you would not effing believe! Most of the signage is strangely white and utilitarian, as if someone handed a Word document to the guy at Kinko’s and told them to “print these words” on a banner. And except for ice skating, there still isn’t much for kids to do.
Besides meeting Santa Claus, the only organized activity—and it is one that’s clearly intended to honor the Holidazzle tradition of lowering your core body temperature as much as possible—is the outdoor showing, on Sunday evenings, of a few movies: It’s A Wonderful Life, Polar Express, Home Alone, and the most aptly named of the bunch, Frozen. There’s a stage, too, where many local choirs and choral groups will be singing Xmas carols. A few bands and other musical acts are scheduled as well, but it remains to be seen how well they’ll be able to use their fingers and keep their instruments in tune.
Though it has a way to go before it’s considered a must-go tradition, Holidazzle is a definite move in the right direction. It’s not hard to envision how it might look a few years from now—with a wider variety of vendors, more activities, more civic involvement, a few million more lights, etc. Even as it is, there’s something charming (there’s that word!) about the event’s current commercial restraint and humble size. That may not last. These things tend to start small, then gather steam. Next thing you know, you’ve got a Renaissance Festival on your hands.
Or a crazy parade.