It’s December. A light but bracingly chill breeze wafts by, ruffling that slightly scratchy woolen scarf warming your neck. Clean, crisp puffs of winter air become visible wispy clouds of vapor with each escaping breath.
Now, take a deep inhale. Green smells–fresh cut fir, boxwood, farm stand vegetables–mix with the warm aroma of that spiced coffee clutched between cold hands, filling your nostrils. Brassy sounds of joyous holiday carols sing out.
I’m remembering a Saturday morning in the year-round open air Ann Arbor Farmers Market where, thanks to some wintery sensory input, Christmas finally came.
Finding Holiday Joy When December Feels Like Spring
So much of traditional Christmas magic is wrapped up in cold climate images that it’s difficult for us warmer area dwellers to feel the holiday spirit.
In Texas, “fall” and “winter” are differentiated more by a lack of sweat than autumnal colors or evergreens (cedar trees so don’t count). In fact, as I packed for my first trip to Michigan, Austin was a experiencing a balmy, sunshine-infused, 70-something, shorts-appropriate December day.
I had the damn windows open, for goodness sake.
Sigh. Reconciling what felt like spring with what was supposed to be winter just wasn’t possible. Forget about holiday decorating.
Ann Arbor, however, fixed me right up.
With temperatures hovering in the 30s and a myriad of holiday-themed activities and decorations, there was no way to maintain a bah-humbug attitude. And since I can’t capture those amazing winter sensory experiences, I’ll settle with sharing images and descriptions via blog.
Ann Arbor Feels Like Christmas Should
The temperature hovered in the 30s and 40s. As a Texan, I was struck by how relatively stable the thermometer stayed; days only warmed by a few degrees. I was also surprised by how late the sun rose (pack a headlamp for morning runs!) and early it set (it’s a short day, folks).
Packing Tip: Think layers, because interior heat can get very stuffy. I actually opened my hotel windows–one of many things I loved about staying at Graduate Hotel, a short walk from University of Michigan campus and downtown Ann Arbor.
So many holiday plants, Christmas trees, and downtown glee! Everywhere you look in Ann Arbor is full of festive reds and greens. The decorations are gorgeous.
Local artists start painting in November, and the seasonal artwork combined with shop owners’ festive displays add a magical touch of wintery whimsy to window shopping.
Mani Osteria & Bar, home of that beautiful snowy window scene, serves small plate Italian food (yes, they have gluten-free options; accommodating allergy needs is easy in this foodie town). Next door is sister restaurant Isalita, inspired by Mexican street food.
Holiday Shopping, Made Easy
Nearby Ypsilanti is a short drive away but totally connected in spirit. My stroll around made me think that perhaps Ypsi was collegiate Ann Arbor’s hippie sister. I got another peek at the Border to Border trail and did some holiday browsing.
Materials Unlimited was a true find. I love repurposing items, and the shop is full of all types of architectural salvage. Sure, you could use it all as it was intended, but it’s so much fun to come up with new uses. My husband is just lucky I didn’t buy the bar cart I coveted. I did treat myself to an antique heating grate, which sits on the dresser holding my earrings.
With Christmas trees were everywhere, I realized my fresh tree will most likely have made the trek from Michigan. According to the National Christmas Tree Association, the Great Lakes State is one of the top growers (along with Oregon, North Carolina, Pennsylvania, Wisconsin, and Washington).
Oh, you can’t imagine how fresh the farmers market, full of holiday greenery, smells! This Texas girl had never experienced anything quite like that aroma.
Celebrating the Season in Ann Arbor
No shortage of holiday activities in this town!
The Ann Arbor Farmers Market hosted the annual KindleFest celebration, a night of crafts, music, and outdoor beverages. People on dates and family outings shopped, huddled around blazing fire pits, drank spiced wine, and sang carols.
But the thing that filled me most with holiday spirit was attending the University of Michigan’s University Musical Society seasonal performance of Handel’s “Messiah.”
Held at the historic Hill Auditorium, the Choral Union is accompanied by the Ann Arbor Symphony Orchestra. The holiday performance has been a tradition since 1879–1880 season.
I always decorate my tree at home while listening to and singing along with “Messiah,” but I had never heard a full, live performance. The acoustics in Hill Auditorium were truly spectacular; the soloists were so skilled; the music uplifting.
It was impossible to leave that evening and not be fully in the holiday season.
Oh, and I found another more literal way to be filled with holiday spirit.
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