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Portage decks itself out for holiday season; numerous events set

November 13, 2018
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One of the firm rules for the Portage Lighted Holiday Parade: No floats or parade units featuring Santa Claus. That's because Santa makes an entrance near the end of the parade, as he did in 2017.

The season’s first dusting of snow is gone, but signs of the upcoming holidays in Portage are everywhere.

“I just looked out the window,” said Marianne Hanson, executive director of the Portage Area Chamber of Commerce, “and I saw the Mercantile window was being decorated, with a tree and a gingerbread house.”

Hanson said it’s time to get into the spirit of the season, because next week marks the start of numerous traditional Portage holiday activities.

For at least one event — the lighting of downtown Portage’s new holiday decorations — preparations are going on now, Hanson said. City crews are mounting heavy-duty brackets to the light poles on Cook, Wisconsin and DeWitt streets to accommodate a series of large lighted snowflakes.

The snowflakes will light up downtown Nov. 23 after the Holiday Lighted Parade, and they’ll be activated by the same substance that illuminates the giant holiday tree at Commerce Plaza — a sprinkling of magic dust from Santa, atop a Portage Fire Department hook and ladder truck.

Fiorella Neira, who has coordinated Downtown Portage Inc.’s Holiday Lighted Parade for the last several years, says the deadline for registering parade units is Friday.

The parade entry form can be found online at neiraeventgroup.com/portageholidayparade. Inquiries can be emailed to hello@neiraeventgroup.com.

As always, there are two hard-and-fast rules for parade entries. Rule 1: Let there be lighting. Rule 2: No Santa Claus motifs, because Santa makes his grand entrance at the parade’s end.

Actually, that’s one of two grand entrances for Santa on Nov. 23. The first happens at 10 a.m. at the Portage Municipal Airport, when Santa arrives in an airplane, then walks across the tarmac to greet throngs of children waiting to share their wish lists.

One reason why Portage’s holiday traditions don’t change much from year to year is because generations of people have come to treasure them, Hanson said.

“People make a point of incorporating our holiday events into their traditions,” she said. “I know adults who came to the events as children, and now they bring their own kids.”

There is one Portage holiday tradition with a date and time that varies from year to year, and that’s the appearance of the Canadian Pacific Railroad Holiday Train.

The train, featuring a boxcar stage and live holiday music, is scheduled to arrive at 1:15 p.m., Dec. 8, and the free performance by Willy Porter and the group Trews is set for 1:30-2 p.m.

Hanson said the area for viewing the performance will definitely be on the other side of the tracks this year.

Because of construction around the Amtrak depot in Portage, spectators will not be able to park in the train station’s lot or stand near the depot, located on Oneida Street.

Hanson said on-street parking will be available in the vicinity of Averbeck Street near the Portage Curling Club. Spectators should plan on a longer walk to the train than usual.

The traditional Holiday Train attractions — including cookies and hot chocolate from the Rotary Club, and opportunities to donate food and money to Portage’s food pantries — will be set up on the north side of the tracks, Hanson said.

Here’s a rundown of what’s in store for Portage’s holiday season. All events are free unless otherwise indicated.

Santa fly-in at the Portage Municipal Airport: 10 a.m. Friday, Nov. 23.Holiday Lighted Parade and Tree Lighting: 6 p.m. Friday, Nov. 23. Parade units will line up around Pauquette Park starting at 4 p.m., and the parade will proceed down West Conant Street, turn right onto Wisconsin Street, then left onto Cook Street, ending at Adams Street.Chili dump: Portage Presbyterian Church will offer chili for sale at Commerce Plaza starting at 5 p.m. Friday, Nov. 23, for as long as the chili lasts — which usually isn’t long.Santa’s Real Live Reindeer and Elf Hunt: Santa will be on hand, and so will many in his antlered fleet, from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. Saturday, Nov. 24. Downtown businesses will be open, with small prizes for children who can find the elf that is hidden in each of 12 participating business.Cookie Walk: From 9 a.m. to noon Saturday, Dec. 1. Cookie boxes go on sale for $5 starting Nov. 26, and there are a limited number of available boxes available at the Portage Area Chamber of Commerce, 104 W. Cook St., and travel to participating businesses to pick up a cookie. About 20 businesses are expected to participate.Gale Singers Holiday Concert: 4-6 p.m. Sunday, Dec. 2 at the Portage Center for the Arts, 301 E. Cook St. Tickets are $6 at the door.Love Lights: Divine Savior Healthcare’s traditional celebration of the season, with tree lights contributed in memory of loved ones, will be held from 5:30-7:30 p.m. Thursday, Dec. 6 at Tivoli at Divine Savior, 2805 Hunters Trail.Breakfast with Santa at Culver’s: There will be one seating for the free breakfast, from 8-9 a.m. Saturday, Dec. 8. Advance tickets are required, and they go fast. For information on how to reserve tickets, call the Portage Area Chamber of Commerce at 608-742-6242. Participants are asked to bring a non-perishable food donation. Bring your own camera, as Santa will pose for photos.Breakfast with Santa, hosted by Portage Kiwanis Club: 8-11 a.m. Saturday, Dec. 8 at Dino’s Restaurant, with pancakes as the main dish. Tickets cost $5 per person, and advance tickets are available at Prairie Flower Beads, the Mercantile, Gail’s Free Spirit Travel and Dino’s.Bring Your Paws to Claus: Columbia County Humane Society fundraiser, featuring photos of your pets with Santa Claus, 9 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. Saturday, Dec. 8, at the Humane Society, N7768 Industrial Road, just west of Portage. A $10 donation is requested, and includes a 4x6 photo. Other photo packages are available for purchase. Call to register at 608-742-3666.Canadian Pacific Holiday Train: arriving 1:15 p.m. at the Portage Amtrak station.Historic Indian Agency House Kiddie Christmas: 2-4 p.m. Saturday, Dec. 8, $3 free-will donation. Santa will come to hear wish lists and read a holiday story, and youngsters will be invited to decorate holiday cookies.Historic Living Windows: 4-6 p.m. Saturday, Dec. 8, downtown Portage.Santa at the Elks Lodge: 6:30-7:30 p.m. Christmas Eve, Monday, Dec. 24, 201 W. Conant St.Free Christmas dinner: Noon to 1:30 p.m. Christmas Day, Tuesday, Dec. 25, Portage Presbyterian Church, 120 W. Pleasant St.

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