Three ways to beat the lighting festival crowds in Leavenworth this December (copy)

A crowd estimated at more than 15,000 people gathers on Front Street in Leavenworth for the first Christmas Lighting Festival weekend of 2016. A new strategy introduced this year will eliminate the countdown to flipping the switch on the lights. Instead, the lights will be on all the time, with more activities planned throughout the entire month with a goal of spreading out the crowds and improving the experience for everyone involved.

LEAVENWORTH — The ceremonial countdown followed by the flip of a switch to reveal the Bavarian Village’s holiday lights on December weekends is giving way to a new “always on” approach introduced during the pandemic.

The reconfigured festival, now “Village of Lights” rather than “Christmas Lighting” is designed to avoid the massive weekend crowds that put pressure on safety, parking, traffic and the overall visitor and resident experience, according to chamber officials who announced the plan last week.

Those changes, according to the chamber’s news release, include “adding more light displays to the half a million-plus that already shine each year, activation of the Festhalle with activities, displays and entertainment, and adopting an ‘always-on’ approach to the lights, for that magical experience midweek as well as weekends.”

The same strategy will be applied to other chamber-sponsored events in January, February and May.

The change follows a comprehensive discussion by the chamber’s board, said chamber spokeswoman Jessica Stoller, which included looking at how to improve all the festivals, with an eye toward overall safety, crowd mitigation, and the event experience for our visitors and locals.

The idea is to level out the peak traffic and visitation times, she said.

“Instead of one weekend in May where we showcase Maifest traditions, we would have programming and activities every weekend” throughout the month, she said.

For the December holiday lighting festivities, specifically, that means a host of new activities, including:

  • A scavenger hunt and new lighting displays
  • Krampusnaucht — activities centered on the traditional German folklore character Krampus, a masked figure who scares children who misbehave
  • Letters to Santa
  • Gingerbread heart necklaces for children
  • A benefit gingerbread house construction competition
  • Opportunities to win a themed Christmas tree and accompanying gifts
  • Gift wrapping stations
  • Locally made ornaments for those shopping mid-week

“After a year without the festival, the board took thoughtful steps to evolve the event to be in line with the popularity of Leavenworth during the month of December,” Stoller said. “These changes, in conjunction with more holiday entertainment every hour at the gazebo on the weekends from noon to 8 p.m. and a series of new activities all month long, will help in our effort to mitigate crowd sizes, spread out the parking availability, elevate the experience for our visitors and locals and make better use of our public spaces.”

Specifics on the events planned for January and February are still being finalized.

The festival coordination will continue to require help from volunteers, she said.

“How many we need is an unknown right now and will reveal itself as planning continues,” she said. “We love our volunteers and they have always been a huge part of the event work we do.”

The future of Leavenworth’s Oktoberfest, which for more than two decades has taken place on three weekends in October, organized by the nonprofit Projekt Bayern, remains in limbo. It was canceled in 2020 because of the pandemic. A combination of the uncertainty about COVID-19 restrictions this fall and changes proposed by the city led to it being canceled again this year. The city of Leavenworth has since canceled Projekt Bayern’s contract to host the event, which had been in place since 2012.

The other traditional Bavarian Village event is the Autumn Leaf Festival, which includes a parade. It is organized by another nonprofit, the Washington State Autumn Leaf Festival Association. It also was canceled last year because of the pandemic. According to its website, the festival is planned for Sept. 24, 25 and 26 this year. No other details have been posted.

Nevonne McDaniels: (509) 664-7151

mcdaniels@wenatcheeworld.com