By Sharon Gittleman
While youngsters around the world have to stay up late on Christmas Eve to catch a glimpse of Santa, in Birmingham, St. Nick keeps regular business hours. You’ll find him at 1 – 5 p.m. on Fridays and Saturdays and noon – 4 p.m. every Sunday, between Thanksgiving and Christmas, in his own mini house in Shain Park.
“Santa will arrive in a horse-drawn carriage for our traditional tree lighting ceremony,” said John Heiney, executive director of the Birmingham Principal Shopping District.
The newly-appointed Mayor and dozens of residents will welcome Santa at 6 p.m. on Nov. 24 in Shain Park, Heiney said, with everyone fortified by free hot cocoa and cookies.
“After the tree lighting ceremony, Santa goes in Santa House and greets the children and takes their wishes,” he said. “He’ll do that until 8 p.m.”
While a formal celebration will kickoff the official holiday season, regular visitors to Birmingham are anticipating the town’s other gifts to the senses.
Starting in mid-November, the city will brighten cold nights by wrapping its streets in light. Trees laden with snow will sparkle with red, gold and silver strings of bright holiday illuminations.
Visitors will have another present, courtesy of the Principal Shopping District, said Heiney. From 10 a.m. – 6 p.m. on Dec. 11, and noon – 4 p.m. on Dec. 12, they’ll enjoy special treats during Birmingham’s Shop and Win event – including a bargain hunter’s dream raffle.
“The prize is a shopping spree in downtown Birmingham – a series of gift certificates that total over $4,000,” said Heiney.
You can try your luck by filling out entry forms at over 40 participating stores in town, he said.
Carolers drawn from school choirs and the Village Players community theater troupe will perform your favorite holiday songs during the event, while Victorian-garbed characters and a street magician will entertain you as you shop.
“We wanted to create a general festive atmosphere downtown,” said Heiney.
People laden with newly-purchased presents won’t have to end their day by trudging back to their cars. They can take a break from their burdens by enjoying the free horse-drawn carriage rides through city streets.
Parking at decks and meters are free during the Shop and Win event. Visitors coming to Birmingham during the holiday season and beyond can enjoy two hours of free parking in the decks.
Beautifully decorated windows and a cheerful holiday ambiance are only two reasons to shop in Birmingham, Heiney said.
“The stores have merchandise that is unique,” he said. “We have store owners who travel around the world to find gift items.”
Many of the small shops are family-owned and operated, offering personalized service to visitors, Heiney said.
Festivities, a shop that sells giftware and decorations, offers both those advantages, said store co-owner Doug Winkworth.
“Our business is all about entertaining,” he said.
At Festivities, you’ll find everything from candles and custom-designed invitations to tableware and seasonal decor, said Winkworth.
“The whole store is in holiday mode from the front door to the back,” he said. “There are Christmas trees everywhere, lots of handmade ornaments and wreathes.”
Festivities also helps people create special events like weddings and other large galas.
When planning parties, Winkworth advises his customers to decide whether they’d like to build the event around a particular theme or style.
“You can hold parties in an unusual spot in the house,” he said. “Instead of being set up in the dining room, maybe your living room furniture is moved in the garage for the day and you set up your living room like a 50’s diner.”
You might try a tapas party with champagne served at midnight, instead of a formal sit-down dinner, Winkworth said.
Small hostess gift baskets given to guests can also add holiday cheer. For a Hanukah party, he suggests making a basket up with dreidels and gold-wrapped chocolate coins along with Jordan almonds in traditional colors like gold and blue.
Tiny picture frames with photos of your guests inside might make fun place cards and custom-made CDs with special music is another nice gift, Winkworth said.
“The trick is to think outside the lines,” he said. “The important thing is to spend a little time to make your guests feel like you are fussing over them. That conveys the message that they are special to you.”
Festivities is located at 377 Hamilton Row in Birmingham.
By Sharon Gittleman