Making the Most of Lansing’s Silver Bells in the City

Making the Most of Lansing’s Silver Bells in the City

The 31st Annual Silver Bells in the City festival in Lansing is this Friday, November 20, from 5 PM – 9 PM. This event is held the Friday before Thanksgiving each year. Over 80,000 people come to the city to enjoy an electric light parade, music and dance performances, holiday shopping, the lighting of the official State of Michigan Christmas tree, and fireworks.

I have personally been to the festival eight times – four years as a marching band parade performer and four years as an attendee while my sister was in the band. Here are a few tips for attending Silver Bells in the City, from my own experiences.

Getting There

With 80,000 people coming into town, you can imagine that parking is a hot commodity. Luckily, all City of Lansing parking ramps are free beginning at 5 PM. If you don’t want to mess with that, here are some alternative options:

  • Carpool – Meet up with friends and family outside of the city and carpool in for the festival. This saves the hassle of finding your friends in the crowd, and you only have to find one parking space.
  • Take CATA – Ride the bus for just $.50 or use a CATA fixed-route pass, and receive a boarding pass for use on all Silver Bells route buses throughout the event. Children 42” tall and under ride for free. Silver Bells routes run from 5 PM – 10 PM
  • Park & Ride – Park in the Michigan Historical Museum parking lot and ride a special CATA Silver Bells route to the parade and entertainment sites.
  • Take a cab – Avoid parking altogether by taking a cab or Uber downtown.
Making the Most of Lansing's Silver Bells in the City - Awesome Mitten
Photo: The CATA-pillar bus traditionally lit to look like a caterpillar for the 2013 Lansing Silver Bells in the City parade, courtesy of Flickr User David Shane.

Arrive Early

Some of my favorite memories from Silver Bells in the City were before the event even started. I would meet my family members for an early dinner / happy hour at one of the many restaurants downtown. We would beat the crowds to find a parking space, and enjoy some holiday spirits and quality time before venturing out into the crowds.

Plan Ahead

There are many events and activities as part of Silver Bells in the City. Know what you want to do before you go. The Silver Bells in the City website has a map of events on their website that will be helpful.

  • Silver Bells Village – 5 PM– 9 PM
    Located on the 100 E. Block of Allegan Street (Between S. Washington Square and Grand Avenue), the Silver Bells Village features holiday shopping, refreshments, and the vendors of the official 2015 commemorative ornament.
  • 19th Annual Electric Light Parade – Starts off at 6 PM
    70+ units, all lit with thousands of lights, parade through downtown Lansing. The parade includes local high school marching bands, carriages, floats, and the arrival of Santa. This year’s grand marshal is Michigan-native Joshua Davis, a finalist on Season 8 of NBC’s “The Voice.”
  • Community Sing – Approx. 7:20 PM
    Led by The Steiner Chorale, community members will sing two songs, voted for by the Lansing community.
  • Lighting of the State Christmas Tree – Approx. 7:35 PM
    The tree lighting ceremony is held in front of the State Capitol following the conclusion of the parade and community sing.
  • Fireworks – Approx. 7:45 PM
    Weather permitting, there will be a fireworks display over the Capitol dome.
  • Joshua Davis in Concert – 8 PM, Lansing Center
    The Michigan-Native and MSU alumnus will give a special concert. If you can’t wait until Friday to see him perform, watch him perform his own arrangement of MSU Shadows on YouTube.
  • Various Activities and Performances – There is plenty more fun to be had throughout the evening in Lansing. Musical performances, dance ensembles, strolling clowns, face painting, museum tours, photo booths, crafts, and magic shows are scattered at venues throughout the downtown area. See the Silver Bells in the City website for location and performance information.

Pick A Meeting Spot

If you’re meeting up with anyone downtown, have a plan for where to meet so that you don’t have to rely on cell phone service. Keep in mind that as soon as the parade is finished the crowds stream towards the Capitol, making it difficult to move in the opposite direction. If you’re meeting someone after the event, consider meeting on a side street or a couple blocks from the Capitol.

Making the Most of Lansing's Silver Bells in the City - Awesome Mitten
Photo: Larger-than-life ornaments greet visitors to Downtown Lansing during the holidays. Photo courtesy of Flickr User A Healthier Michigan.

Dress Warm

I can’t reiterate this enough. Dress warm. In eight years, I never truly felt like I got this right. I have always felt cold. (Granted, during my marching band days there were only so many layers that could go under our uniforms.)

If you plan on grabbing dinner at a restaurant, dress in layers so you can add warmth when you go out for the parade. Warm boots, gloves, and a hat are your friends! Hand warmers are a nice bonus. The forecast for Friday calls for temperatures around 40, getting down to the low 30s and upper 20s at night.

Be A Parade-Watching Pro

It inevitably happens every year. As crowds grow, the parade-goers crowd into the street to get a better view. As the parade approaches, police officers and parade volunteers have to force the crowds back for their own safety, and the safety of the performers, as floats and marching bands go by.

As a former color guard member of a marching band, I have one request: please stay back on the sidewalk. Marching bands in this parade often dance down the street. Members may move closer to the crowd at times, and color guard flagpoles sometimes swing out during routines. Please help parade performers by keeping children safely back on the sidewalk. And if you see children around you, consider allowing them to stand in front so they can see the Christmas magic more easily.

Making the Most of Lansing's Silver Bells in the City - Awesome Mitten
Photo: 2013 Lansing Silver Bells in the City parade, courtesy of Flickr User A Healthier Michigan

Make A Weekend Of It

The fun is not over on Friday! Check out the other great events on Saturday and Sunday:

  • Breakfast with Santa – Saturday and Sunday, 8 AM – 12 PM
    Enjoy a pancake breakfast with Santa and Mrs. Clause. A $10 ticket gets you a meal and activities including cookie decorating, writing letters to Santa, and holiday arts and crafts. Children under 2 get in free. Tickets and reservations are available at Troppo by calling 517-371-4000.
  • Silver Bells 5K – Saturday, 9 AM
    This run/walk supports Silver Bells in the City and the Chris & Louise Holman Foundation. The run includes a “most spirited costume” contest and awards for top finishers. Register here.
  • Wonderland of Lights – Friday, November 20 through Sunday, December 27
    Potter Park Zoo is open Thursday through Sundays from 5 PM – 8 PM for the Wonderland of Lights. Thousands of lights adorn the pathways and animal exhibits in special holiday displays. Enjoy cookies, crafts and animal encounters, with live entertainment. Admission is $7 for adults, $5 for kids age 3-12, and free for children under 3. See the Potter Park Zoo website for more information.

Or Stay In!

If going out for the festivities is not your cup of tea, stay in and have a Silver Bells party of your own! The parade is broadcasted live from 6 PM – 8 PM on Fox 47, WKAR, and local Comcast Channel 12. There are also replays scheduled throughout the coming weeks. See the schedule on the Silver Bells in the City website.