Making Detroit Holiday Memories Before It was Hip

Buildings lit for the Big, Bright Light Show in downtown Rochester, MI

Cropped image. Eric Michael1, Flickr. CC License.

I don’t want to brag, but I met the real Santa. I did!

It was in the early ’80s; he was sitting there for all to see at the old Hudson’s in downtown Detroit. Decked out in red and white from head-to-toe, he talked to every child as if they were the only one in the room. I was a bit shy when it was my turn to talk to the big man, but after some small talk I was able to tell him what I wanted for Christmas.

How do I know it was the real one you may ask? Well, everything I told him I wanted was under the tree that Christmas morning! Star Wars action figures (not dolls!), a Lions jersey of my favorite player, and so much more that I knew I would need to see my buddy at Hudson’s the next year to thank him. And that, ladies and gentlemen, was how a tradition started!

I realize now that the most important part of that story isn’t the toys, but the time my single-father took to take my sister and me to see the splendor of the holiday displays and get in the spirit of the season. He always took time to do a little extra for us at holiday time—right down to figuring out how two 6-foot ladders and a 2×6 was all you needed for a few kids to see over the crowds at the Thanksgiving Day parade.

Though I may never create my own bootleg bleachers along Woodward, I need to get better about creating traditions for our girls that they can hand down to their children someday. Sadly Hudson’s may be long gone, but these events below may be the perfect place to start new family traditions:

Wayne County Lightfest
Enjoy 4 miles of some of the most amazing light displays the area has to offer right in the comfort of your own vehicle! Running through Dec. 31 (closed Dec. 25), the Wayne County Lightfest allows you to drive through the decorated area to see the splendor from any window of your vehicle. Don’t forget to bring your letters to Santa; you can mail them outside of Santa’s Workshop.

  • Location: 7651 Merriman Rd. (Hines Dr. and Merriman Rd.), Westland.
  • Times: 7–10 p.m. (M–Th), 6–10 p.m. Fri–Sat.
  • Cost: $5 a car.
  • Phone: (734) 261-1990.

Capuchin Soup Kitchen
Share the gift of volunteerism with your children and show them a real reason for the season. Help prep and/or serve meals to working families and seniors. The soup kitchen is always looking for extra help and young and old are able to volunteer, but please check cskdetroit.org for more information.

  • Multiple locations and times. Call ahead for details.
  • Phone: (313) 822-8606 ext. 217.

There are thousands of holiday events and worthy charities in the metro-Detroit area, so pick up your local newspaper, magazine or website to look at what’s available.

Traditions are what you make them, but go make some. You never know what will be remembered.

– Jim Pesta, Parenting Program participant and father of two girls

1 Response to “Making Detroit Holiday Memories Before It was Hip”


  1. 1 Anonymous December 11, 2014 at 7:27 pm

    Lightfest – must check out. This article warmed my heart. Thank you!


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