The ornaments have been taken down, the tree collected, and my cherished holiday teacups packed away for another year (indeed, I have Christmas themed china).
The holidays are officially over, and 2016 is in full force. Yet each day my mind wanders back to the magical Washington Christmas we experienced.
Although Tom and I spent Christmas break in Maui, much of December revolved around embracing the holiday spirit that seemed to be infectious in the Pacific Northwest. Our town had its very own Winter Wonderland in the woods (amazing), I coerced Tom into attending the Anacortes Tree Lighting (made from crab pots this year, so very fishing-town-chic), and by chance we even caught Victoria’s Christmas parade while visiting Vancouver Island over Thanksgiving holiday weekend.
But my favourite Christmas memory from 2015? Taking a drive to the Leavenworth Christmas Lighting Festival for a snowy, magical weekend of sparkly Christmas lights, mulled wine and roasted chestnuts.
Nestled in Washington’s craggy Cascades mountain range, Leavenworth is Little Germany come to life in America. The entire town center has been modeled on a Bavarian Village, from the building facades to the cobblestone streets – even the fast-food chains come in a Tudor theme.
While this small town’s European roots aren’t exactly authentic, it’s regularly named one of America’s cutest towns and has kitschy Christmas cheer up the wazoo. This makes it a perfect weekend destination during December, when the lederhosen can safely be left behind in preference for thick winter jackets and snow boots.
I’ve previously described Leavenworth as “the place where fellow festive nerds unite to collectively oooh and ahhh over millions of Christmas lights, drink mulled wine, snack on roasted chestnuts, and enjoy the tunes of bell choirs and carol singers without being mocked by the real world.” Technically the displays feature about half a million Christmas lights (only!), but otherwise I think it’s a pretty accurate representation of this town. And I mean that in the best possible way.
Every Christmas cliché comes to the party in Leavenworth. Hand bell choirs and concert bands perform in the Front St Gazebo. Carolers dwell in building arches to take advantage of the acoustics. The smell of roasted chestnuts and hot cinnamon donuts fill the air. A traditional Gluhwein Tent sells hot mulled wine and cider. And while the crowds can seem on Disney Land proportions, the celebrations don’t really seem contrived. It’s just a lot of fun.
Our December visit was marked with heavy snowfall. Due to near-freezing temperatures we sensibly balanced outdoor exploration with plenty of stops inside browsing cute stores like Kris Kringl, the Nutcracker Museum and The Gingerbread Factory.
And, because I’m me, there was plenty of time set aside for espresso at J5, sampling goodness at basement wine cellar Swakane Winery, and watching the snowfall magic by the windows at Icicle Brewing Company (the Bootjack IPA is a winner – and brewery tours are available too).
The standout stop for the day was the Blue Spirits Distilling tasting room. Specialising in whisky, vodka, tequila and rum, Tom and I made an effort to taste all varieties, and ordered a tasting flight each. I sampled the Buttered Rum, Ghost Gin & Tonic and Espresso Vodka – straight up first, before adding delicious mixers. It was the Bourbon Whisky that won us over, and we happily parted with $50 for a bottle. It’s been the source of many delicious old fashioned cocktails since!
Determined not to stay indoors all day long, we braved the snow and walked through Riverfront Park. Unsurprisingly, not everyone was keen to wade through snow – we had the place to ourselves!
Even as the snow turned to sleet then turned to ice cold rain in the late afternoon, my Christmas cheer was unabated. Tom and I shared an umbrella while watching kids sled down the small hill in Front Street Park, listening to the orchestra play Christmas songs as the day’s light disappeared behind the Cascade mountains.
And then, the moment the crowd had been awaiting, the lights came on!
Despite being a tourist town, Leavenworth has a very decent dining scene. While many restaurants keep up with the Bavarian theme, cuisines of all nations can be found within the cobblestone streets.
If you’d like to stick with the German theme, check out Andreas Keller Restaurant or Café Mozart for more upmarket German food, or Munchen Haus if you’d prefer a casual beer garden experience. For fresh, modern Latin cuisine try South. Watershed Café serves up classic Pacific Northwest style options, and Italian-lovers can find solace in Sulla Vita (wine on tap!) or The Alley Café. For a small town, the options really are endless.
If you’re here during peak season or a festival, I would highly recommend making reservations for dinner, unless you fancy a long wait for a table.
After filling my stomach at dinner, and topping it off with a final coffee and donut from the festival tent, it was time to call it a night.
Returning to a cosy fireplace and bottle of red wine at Blue Grouse Lodge was the final tick of a very successful outing. It can be difficult to find accommodation near Leavenworth during festival season, but this B&B was so charming and idyllic, with wonderful hosts. When you wake up to views like this, it’s difficult to be disappointed.
I’ve always dreamed of a White Christmas. This one was awesome.
Have you experienced a Leavenworth Christmas? What are your favourite Christmas festivals around the world?
Leavenworth actually keeps its light display running until midway through February, so if you didn’t make it there for Christmas I’d highly recommend a visit this winter. The town hosts a tonne of festivals – for a full list of annual events check out the website
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