I attended Holidazzle for the first time last winter, but missed the excitement and activity because it was early on a Saturday afternoon. This year I went on the Saturday that coincided with the first Winter Open Streets event, drawing quite a large crowd and making the event more active. It was fun walking around Loring Park, where Holidazzle has been held for the past several years during construction on Nicollet Mall, to experience all the sites, sounds, and smells.
Holidazzle began in 1992 as a parade that kicked off the holiday season. The Downtown business group wanted to encourage residents and visitors to shop and dine in the downtown area despite Mall of America opening that year. The parade, filled with lights and held at night, ran for nearly 20 years until construction on Nicollet Mall began in 2015. At this time they turned the celebration into a holiday village and market in Peavey Plaza. Subsequent construction on Nicollet Mall necessitated the festivities be moved to its current location in Loring Park.
The new version of Holidazzle had a rough start, partly due to the $6 entrance fee. Three years later, now a free event, it appears Holidazzle has recovered and is largely a success. The dense urban village has fireworks on the weekend, two large interactive animal sculptures, a free ice skating rink, numerous food and merchant vendors, choirs singing carols throughout the day, and of course, Santa.
All this is enough to draw some visitors for an hour or two to see the sights and have some mulled cider or a beer, but more people were drawn in on this particular Saturday thanks to the first Winter Open Streets. Open Streets is a well known summer activity in Minneapolis, where different streets in the city are closed to vehicles for seven hours on a various Saturday. Pedestrians and bicyclists can experience what the neighborhood is like without cars and stop by numerous vendors and information tents.
Our Streets Minneapolis, the organization that runs the summer open streets series, decided to try out their first event during the winter. I was skeptical of the attendance, but the Minnesotan spirit won out and everyone bundled up to attend despite the cold. Instead of water stations, there were fire pits. A church on the route, which ran along Nicollet Mall, even had a smores making station. The bike vendor had fat tire winter bikes instead of typical road bikes.
In some states winter is a season where everyone commits to staying inside and waiting it out, but events like this remind me that Minnesotan's have a different mentality. My dad once told me after he was up north during the dead of winter that Minnesotan's just bundle up and go outside. That was certainly true this weekend. The street was lined with vendors and people talking, singing, playing instruments and enjoying the festivities.