Celebrate the holidays, Inland Northwest-style, with these community events and traditions

click to enlarge Celebrate the holidays, Inland Northwest-style, with these community events and traditions
Where's the bamboo? The "Panda Forest" will be at Northwest Winterfest at the fairgrounds.


The nights now are long and dark, but the warmth and cheer of holiday lights are here to bring joy and wonder to the season. After all, who doesn't have a cherished memory or two that centers on the magic and beauty of (what most of us call) Christmas lights?

Locals can continue to make such memories this year with the return of NORTHWEST WINTERFEST, a Chinese lantern-style festival taking over the exhibit halls of Spokane's fairgrounds. While previous years saw all the brightly lit and colorful lantern displays set up outside, organizers are now moving displays indoors for a warmer experience.

"Being indoors provides a comfortable environment for people to be there longer," says event organizer Sam Song. "Last season, kids were crying because they didn't want to leave, but it was too cold."

Twenty-two themed lantern displays are spread throughout the halls, using about 1,000 individual lanterns of all shapes and sizes, Song says. Visitors can also enjoy short performances each night by various local cultural groups, from Chinese dance to Japanese drumming. Winterfest is set up as a self-guided tour through each themed display, like the "Panda Forest" and "Dragons' Lair" — Song's favorite — with two, 130-foot-long dragons.

"It's very cool, and we even have a fog machine," he says of the mythical dragons.

Attendees who expierienced the Washington State Chinese Lantern Festival in Riverfront Park back in 2015 and 2016 may notice a familiar feel to the Winterfest lanterns, metal assemblages with transparent, colorful fabric stretched around them to create figures like animals and flowers. Song spearheaded the Riverfront event, and the lanterns at Winterfest were purchased from the same company.

Winterfest also spotlights the region's many multicultural groups with 17 illuminated trees decorated by local artists from each represented culture.

The 2021 event drew about 25,000 visitors, and Song is optimistic that this year's indoor version will draw an even bigger crowd during its monthlong run.

"We feel the Spokane people love the same thing people from other parts of the world love, and we want to bring this unique experience to the children and families in Spokane, so they don't have to travel over to Seattle or Chicago or L.A. to see this," Song says. "And we are local, so we will be here for years to come."

Dec. 2-Jan. 1: Fri 5-8 pm, Sat 4-8 pm, Sun 3-6 pm (closed Dec. 25), $12-$17; ages 10 and under free with paying adult, Spokane County Fair & Expo Center, 404 N. Havana St. northwestwinterfest.com

Nov. 29-Dec. 11

There's not much that can match the beauty of an elegantly decorated Christmas tree. Every year, the Historic Davenport Hotel and River Park Square collectively host more than a dozen of the city's most decadent displays. It's all for a good cause, too, as this annual fundraiser — each stunning tree is up for a raffle drawing and comes with all the swag under and around it — benefits musicians of the Spokane Symphony. Find this year's 16 exquisite evergreens spread along the mezzanine of the Davenport and on the second floor of River Park Square. As always, raffle tickets to enter your name into the drawing for your favorite tree are only $1 each. 10 am-8 pm (River Park Square) and 10 am-9 pm (Historic Davenport), free to view, spokanesymphonyassoc.org

Dec. 3

Light-bedecked vehicles once again light up the night in the North Idaho town of Rathdrum for the city's annual holiday parade. Families can head out and marvel at the sight of service rigs like firetrucks and other vehicles strung with colorful lights along their sides, plus other creative community "floats," which can even be horse-drawn. Entrance fees from the parade are donated to the Rathdrum Food Bank, and each vehicle is also in the running to be crowned a winner, with results announced as the parade passes by City Hall. For entry info and parade route maps, visit the following link. 6 pm, free to watch; $5 per entry, rathdrum.org

Dec. 9-18

When COVID forced us all apart for our own safety in 2020, the Friends of Manito got creative and took their popular holiday lights display from the humid confines of the park's Gaiser Conservatory to spread its sparkling joy throughout the 78-acre park. This drive-through option to view the holiday lights along Manito's meandering, paved pathways proved so popular during that first year, it's now the go-to model for this beloved community tradition.

For those who prefer the warmth and convenience of the drive-through-only event (an optimal choice for families with small children or older adults) the dates for 2022 are Friday, Dec. 9, through Monday, Dec. 12, from 6 to 9:30 pm each evening. For those who would like to experience the lights up-close at a slower pace, this year's walk-through nights run from Tuesday, Dec. 13, through Sunday, Dec. 18, from 5-8 pm. Find the event map and other need-to-know details at the link below. Free, donations accepted, Manito Park, 1802 S. Grand Blvd., thefriendsofmanito.org/holiday

Dec. 10-11

You can't really call it Christmas in the Inland Northwest without Bing Crobsy and "White Christmas," both the song and the film. This year, the 16th annual Bing Crosby Holiday Film Festival celebrating Spokane's famous son is marking a big milestone: the 80th anniversary of Crosby's first recording of the yuletide classic song in 1942.

A triple "Bing" whammy hosted by the Bing Crosby Advocates and benefiting the upkeep and operations of the Bing Crosby House Museum (where Bing lived until age 22), and held at the Bing Crosby Theater, the film fest includes two screenings of White Christmas (7 pm both days). Also on the lineup are Bing's 1938 musical comedy Sing You Sinners, plus Road to Utopia and The Bells of St. Mary's. In addition to the films, Bing's nephew Howard Crosby performs with the Celtic Christmas trio Everdream and the Zonky Jazz Band. Starts at 11 am both days, $20, Bing Crosby Theater, 901 W. Sprague Ave., bingcrosbytheater.com

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About The Author

Chey Scott

Chey Scott is the Inlander's Arts and Culture Editor and editor of the Inlander's yearly, glossy magazine, the Annual Manual. Chey (pronounced "Shay") is a lifelong resident of the Spokane area and a graduate of Washington State University. She's been on staff at the Inlander since 2012...