Whenever I think of the holiday season in Seattle, I think of cotton candy. Growing up, one of my fondest memories of Christmas vacation was going to perform in a holiday dance recital at the Seattle Center House and as a treat my parents always let me choose a bag of pink or blue cotton candy. I lived south of Seattle, and so for me, there was something truly magical about getting to go into the city at night dressed in a tutu with my hair curled to within an inch of its life. As I grew older, I started to notice particular additions to life around the holidays that made them feel so special (beyond cotton candy and tutus) and the more I thought about it, the more they were things that made them distinctly Northwest. Here are a handful of my favorites…
I adore autumn in the Northwest. The brilliant reds and oranges of our trees match their silk leaf and flower counterparts in stores. Our region has got to be one of the best places for naturally occurring Thanksgiving foliage. Though there is often record amounts of rain here in November, it never seems to prevent us from enjoying the sights or spirit of the holiday.
Baking and cooking seem that much cozier when it’s 50 degrees and pouring outside. The weather almost encourages such indoor activities. We’re a DIY kind of bunch up here as it is, from brewing our own beer to taking our dessert game to the next level. Personally, I think brownies are the perfect food and always a good idea.
In contrast, with rain a given at this time of year — and I’m talking about real rain, not just one of the eight other words we have for it like “misting” or”drizzle” — outdoors is just as much fun as indoors. Rain makes those football and soccer games you play with your buddies who are home for the holiday much more fun. Playing in two inches of squishy mud is tradition.
After Thanksgiving, the weather noticeably starts to change from autumn to winter. The grays shift ever so slightly from warm to icy, and the bright leaves are slowly replaced by twinkle lights and evergreen boughs.
One of my favorite sights around the holidays is the combination of festive with practical, like that common Northwest trope that for every dressy person at a party, there’s someone also sporting jeans and a fleece (and no one bats an eye). That’s really how we roll here. My personal favorite is the holiday-dress-underneath-a-sensible-softshell-Northface-coat. Why risk the cold, the wet, and the dress when you have a perfectly good hooded jacket?
Speaking of Christmas sights, it’s no huge revelation that a city decked out in lights is a beautiful thing to behold. That said, holiday decorations are particularly special here in Seattle and I’ll tell you why.
Our senses are pretty much conditioned to accept gray as the resting state of color from late September to early June. So, just imagine twinkle lights in all colors lining downtown trees after dark. Now, add a light drizzly mist hanging in the air that catches and magnifies each tiny light. It will fill you with the joy and magic of the season in a way few other things can…except possibly Woodland Park Zoo’s Wildlights (which I will always and forever call “Zoolights”). Again, bring a hood. And, sailboats with Christmas lights? Enough said.
Now, a word on Christmas trees, if that’s your thing. Here, we have the option to drive a short distance and chop our trees down on the side of a mountain, which is pretty incredible when you think about it. There’s also a trend I’ve noticed for alternative Christmas trees — think potted trees you can plant after the season is over or bare branches covered with delicate lights. We’re just being Pacific Northwesty.
While snowy holidays are generally something that happen to other cities, we do manufacture some pretty delightful snow of our own. I worked at Pacific Place during my college days and I never tired of the delicate snow that would flutter down from the third floor of the mall and disappear before it ever touched the ground. I hear they have it at Snowflake Lane at Bellevue Square, too. As a city that is light on its own snow, there is a certain joy found in the beauty and giddiness of an artificially created snowfall without any of the dangerous driving conditions.
If you crave real snow (but also like not having to dig out your car every morning) it’s just a short drive out of the city to entire mountains’ worth of it. Ever since the advent of the motor-powered inner-tube lift, epic sledding has been improved forever. Of course, a popular choice when it snows here in the city is to stay in your house and complain about how ill-equipped we are to deal with snow and how no one here knows how to drive in it anyway — it’s just what’s done. All it takes is seeing one bus slide down the sheet of ice Pine Street can become and it will really make you think if it’s worth getting in your car in the city at all.
Still, not all traditions last forever, like my beloved cotton candy. Another one that I admit I’m really missing this year is the Pacific Northwest Ballet’s production of Maurice Sendak’s The Nutcracker. It was like watching a children’s book come to life. I loved seeing the Christmas tree grow the full height of the stage and wondering just how the Nutcracker managed to leap around with such a large bobble-head-like mask balanced on his shoulders. I know I have to give the new Balanchine version a chance, especially with costumes designed by another wonderful children’s book illustrator, Ian Falconer, but just give me a season or two to adjust, okay?
So cheers from both of us here at The Woodsy — we hope you all have a wonderful Thanksgiving weekend and we wish you a happy start to the holidays here in the Northwest. -Julia