DETROIT: Firing up the Christmas Spirit

22 Dec

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It was the first weekend in December, the grass was still green and the temperatures mild, how is one to get into the holiday spirit? How about the 40th annual Noel Night in downtown Detroit? Yep, that’ll do it! We began our quest with a trip to the Masonic Temple, Handmade Detroit was hosting their seventh annual Detroit Urban Craft Fair. We secured a parking spot on Temple and quickly noticed numerous shoppers both coming and going from the entrance. Inside we boarded the elevator and pressed the button for 3M, we stepped off the elevator and walked over to the drill hall; we’re not used to being in this space without seeing the Detroit Derby Girls whipping around and flying through the air, but this edgy holiday craft show fit the space well.

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The room seemed so much larger; gone were the spectator chairs and tape lines marking off the track, the hardwood floor was now covered with row after row of tables, the lights were softer and the aisles were crowded with folks  hunting for holiday gifts. We walked to the far end and began to wander;  jewelry was prevalent, made from birch bark, glass, wrought iron nails and other interesting materials. Christmas trees decorated with hand crafted ornaments could be found on tables along with other home decor pieces, the mood was light and festive. Why is it when I’m shopping for other people I always find things for myself? There were unique objects like skate boards decked out in racing stripes and custom paint, original stuffed animal characters, and funky posters; no shortage of clever tongue in cheek items here…  T-shirts with original phrases and artwork were fun to look at, we saw beautiful hand dyed scarves, homemade jams, chocolates and greeting cards. Up and down the corridors we went, derby championship banners hanging from the ceiling, shoppers arms heavy with packages, so much more fun than shopping at a mall! The Masonic truly is one of the coolest venues in the city.

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The only hope for getting an easy parking spot on Noel Night is to get there early, so we did. With an upfront space outside Cass Cafe we stepped in for our traditional cocktail to kick off Noel Night. With two open seats at the bar we quickly procured them, ordered our drinks and checked over the evenings schedule. The event seems to grow each year, this year boasting over 200 performances in the Midtown district; all of it taking place in only 4 1/2 hours…impossible to do it all! By the time we had finished our drinks the line to get in had extended out the door; word was out, Noel Night is a blast.

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We began at the DIA, both of us being music lovers we decided to concentrate on the musical performances of the evening. Paul King and the Rhythm Society Orchestra were playing in Rivera Court and this year we got a seat! The atmosphere is magical, the music a delightful selection of old standards and Christmas tunes. I think I counted 15 musicians; they played beautifully as Paul King sang the lyrics, a couple of swing dancers entertained the audience from the side. When the set was finished we headed downstairs to the ever charming Kresge Court to hear a violin ensemble. A group of students dressed in black stood upon a stage playing their violins, the room was dimly lit, miniature white lights decorated the room, spectators watched and listened as the skillful musicians filled the air with holiday songs. 

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We proceeded outside and over to the International Institute on Kirby, they were featuring Holidays Around The World with international dance and song. As we arrived a group of elementary school aged girls took the stage; dressed in elegant white dresses they began to dance to traditional holiday music from Mexico. They danced carefree, a joyful smile upon their faces, parents and relatives gleamed in the audience. When they were finished the audience showed their appreciation with loud applause. Time was ticking and there was still so much to see.

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 Outside people were boarding horse-drawn carriages to take a ride through the city. Further up, the Park Shelton stands gracefully on the corner of Kirby and Woodward; the ground floor is now bursting with new businesses and all were open. We passed through Rodin, a new French inspired restaurant and wine bar recently opened by the same woman who owns Good Girls Go To Paris, loved the Eiffel tower in the entry way,I can’t wait to give it a try. A few doors down is Emerald, the place was packed! The furnishings came from the old Hudson’s and Crowley’s department stores from back in the 20’s and 30’s, the chandelier is from an old movie theatre in Wayne, gorgeous. They have a bit of everything from home goods and personal accessories to candy and paper products. You’re going to have to keep up with me now…..

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Across Woodward the St Paul Lutheran Church Bell Choir was playing on the Detroit Historical Museum‘s newly renovated plaza, inside the museum we listened to a few songs by the Deep River Choir; by now we were fully immersed in the spirit of the holiday. Every way we turned there were people out having a good time; some wore Santa hats, one woman was dressed from head to toe as a Christmas tree, she even had working lights. Walking south on Woodward we could hear laughing coming from the patio of The Whitney, so we went to see what it was about. We found an outdoor fire and folks sitting around it roasting marshmallows that would become the filling for smores, these Noel Night people think of everything.

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And so it went, everywhere we turned there was something to see, hear or do; we were in and out of churches, galleries and cultural institutions, and then, we were tired, and hungry. We made our way back to Cass, but instead of getting in the Jeep, we walked further, all the way to the Auburn Building. The Auburn is a brand new apartment building with retail space on the ground floor. New shops Hugh and Nora were a big hit with the crowd. Upstairs apartments were open to tour as was the large open terrace. With the great location and excellent view it’s easy to see why the units are renting out so quickly.

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With tens of thousands of pedestrians on the midtown city streets we thought it best to eat outside the activity zone. We can always count on Sala Thai in the Eastern Market district for a delicious meal. Fortunately there was an open booth when we arrived; we ordered the N-4 with tofu and sushi, it was on the table before we knew it. It felt good to sit down, relax and enjoy our meal. Detroit is on the move, it’s wonderful to watch the transformation back into a vibrant city; it’s even better to watch people discover it themselves.

2 Responses to “DETROIT: Firing up the Christmas Spirit”

  1. Misty December 24, 2012 at 9:22 am #

    Noel night is such a blast. Funny I was in a lot of the same places you were that evening and didn’t see much of what you have posted here! We toughed it out and ate in midtown. There was a food truck rally behind the Scarab club. We split a macaroni and cheese with bacon, tomato and chives. Then, we walked it off over to Slow’s to go and split a Yardbird sandwich.

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