In keeping with the ever-expanding holiday spirit, this Friday is Richmond’s 26th Annual Grand Illumination. In the past I have stayed at a distance to avoid the traffic, but this year, with a shiny new parking space right in the thick of things, I am ready to join the countdown. This is really the kick off to the holiday season in Richmond so holiday events will be non-stop from here on in.
At 5:59pm, Santa will begin the countdown to light up all the downtown office buildings, the James Center tree, and all the beautiful James Center reindeer at 6pm sharp. They have been hard at work for weeks placing all the reindeer and decorating inside the James Center. It will definitely be beautiful. Richmond isn’t going to miss out on a chance to turn this into a street festival, so there will also be blocks of family entertainment including live music, the Sugar Plum Fairy from the Richmond Ballet, various characters from The Nutcracker, the Snow Queen, and the Virginia Piedmont and Central HO Model Railroad Club. Radio Disney will also be there to keep the kids entertained (as if the twinkling lights aren’t enough). Although the Grand Illumination itself will run from 6pm-7pm, much of downtown Richmond has gotten in on the act and there will be free and discounted activities until 9pm.
From 6-10pm (on Friday AND Saturday) there will be free horse and carriage rides around the historic River district (these are usually $10/person). A 12-passenger holiday decorated carriage will carry families around Shockoe Slip & Shockoe Bottom. All rides start and end at the fountain at 13th and E. Cary Streets and last approximately 20 minutes.
Make sure you don’t miss out on the $2 canal rides while you are in the area (ages 4 and under are free). Canal rides are being offered at this discounted rate from 6-9pm on Friday. Rides last approximately 20 minutes and provide an awesome view of the lights and the city. There will be a marching band in the area providing live music, and rumor has it Santa may even take a boat ride or two. Boats leave from the Turning Basin at 14th st. and Dock St.
Main Street Station will also be offering holiday activities during Grand Illumination. Their holiday open house, with a Polar Express (the children’s christmas movie) theme will be held from 5-9pm. There will be a tree lighting, decorations, and free kiddie train rides, hot cider & cookies, and live music. There will also be professional storytellers to read to the children (am I the only one that thinks this could be the best job ever??) by the fireplace. The Richmond public library will even “gift” a free book to the first 300 children in attendance.
Finally, if you didn’t finish all your holiday shopping on Black Friday, there will be a holiday market at the 17th Street Farmer’s market from 5-9pm featuring homemade crafts, gifts, music, snacks, cider, and Mr. & Mrs. Santa Claus!
Main illumination festivities are held in front of James Center 2 (by the clock tower) and down into Shockoe Bottom. Discounted parking is available after 4pm at the parking deck on the corner of 10th and Canal St. for $3. There will also be $2 parking available at Main Street Station on the West Side using the Franklin St. entrance. This promises to be a huge holiday event so if you aren’t lucky enough to attend, and you work downtown, count on escaping around 4pm on Friday if you want to make it home before 10pm. Otherwise, stay and enjoy!