Sierra Holiday Celebration |

Sierra Holiday Celebration

Kristofer B. WakefieldLights brighten holiday sculptures.
ALL | GrassValleyArchive

Up here in the Gold Country, it’s not hard to think about Christmas. It’s all around us – from the tall pines to the snow-capped peaks in the distance. But we know the season is upon us when the annual Christmas celebrations begin.

The Sierra Foothills towns of Nevada City and Grass Valley take on a special charm during the holidays. Each town celebrates the historic aspect of the holidays in a Big Way. In Nevada City, a party atmosphere reigns; not surprising since most events in the tiny Gold Rush town turn into a party anyway.

Nevada City’s Victorian Christmas celebration is a step back in time. The gaslight lamps glow through the dark night, casting a cozy spell against the thousands of bright white lights that line the shop windows on Broad, Commercial and Pine streets. Most of the vendors and many of the spectators wear Victorian garb, yet it seems totally natural set amid the historic buildings, the quaint carriages pulled by horses and the gentleman in a top hat roasting chestnuts. It’s about more than sights, too. It’s smells of gingerbread and sounds of carolers and the feel of the crisp night air on your clothes and, if you’re really lucky, there will be a dusting of powdered white snow crunching beneath your feet.

Taking a child to Victorian Christmas – held on Wednesday evenings and the last Sunday before Christmas – can be a magical experience. Of course, Santa is there. And so are choirs, bands, carolers and quartets. Hot chocolate, mulled cider and various adult beverages are readily available as well as a variety of great food from local restaurants and vendors.

During the celebration, it’s not difficult to find crowds that swell Nevada City’s population to three times its 3,000 residents during those days. Plan to arrive early and expect to park a short distance away since the downtown area is closed to traffic during Victorian Christmas events.

Victorian Christmas this year is December 4, 11, 18 and 22. On the the first three dates, the event is from 6-9 p.m., and on the 22nd, it runs from 1-5 p.m. Admission is free, and free shuttle service is available from the Nevada County Rood (Government) Center to downtown Nevada City. Maps of Nevada City can be obtained by calling the Chamber of Commerce at (530) 265-2692.

Not to be outdone, Grass Valley’s Cornish Christmas shines a light on the town’s bygone but enduring image as a mining town settled by descendants from Cornwall, England. Those familiar with Cornish traditions will welcome the sight of hot pasties (filled meat pies enjoyed by the miners and still savored today) and cider and the songs of a Cornish choir along Grass Valley’s downtown corridor.

At both Victorian Christmas and Cornish Christmas it’s wise to plan some holiday shopping. Vendors line the streets of both cities with handmade items at prices that are affordable. In Grass Valley, you might find the perfect holiday dress, with a velvet cape to match, as well as jewelry, handmade toys and enough food and sweet goodies to have you loosening your belt a notch. Again, all the vendors are in costume and the Cornish Christmas Santa takes up residence inside El Dorado Savings Bank at Mill and Main streets.

There’s also a walking Christmas Tree who sings to kids of all ages if Santa seems too ho-hum.

Cornish Christmas runs Fridays, November 29 through December 20, from 6-9:30 p.m. Admission is free, and there is free parking in several downtown lots, including South Auburn Street and several other lots within walking distance.

Also in Nevada County is the town of Truckee, a quaint village higher in the mountains where skiiing reigns supreme in the winter and mountain biking is king in the summer.

Truckee is home to an annual Tiny Tim Christmas Village and Holiday Celebration in the town’s Community Center. Held December 6th to 8th, the center is transformed into an “Olde English Village” with about forty booths featuring food, crafts and Christmas items.

Nevada County isn’t the only place in the Sierra to celebrate the holidays.

In Auburn, in Placer County, there’s the annual Old Town Country Christmas, sponsored by the Old Town Auburn Business Association. Crafters, food, a bonfire, hayrides, pony rides, Mr. and Mrs. Claus and live entertainment round out the event on two successive Saturdays, December 14 and 21. Admission is free. For information, call (530) 888-1585.

There’s also a Festival of Lights Parade in downtown Auburn, featuring more than 100 entries including floats, horses, and various service clubs. One highlight of the parade is the plethora of Jeeps that join in, bedecked with festive lights. The parade begins near downtown Auburn and winds out past the Gold Country Fairgrounds. There will be plenty of food, drink and merriment, rain or shine. Admission is free to the event, and there will be vendors selling food, drink and local wares along the parade route. The event is 5:30 p.m. November 30 in downtown Auburn. For information, call (530) 885-5616.

In Sierra County, don’t miss Downieville’s Holiday on Main, held this year on December 7. Historic Main Street is ablaze with holiday lights and decorations, and vendors will be selling food, crafts and art works. Shops stay open late for the occasion and there are many holiday productions in the historic Yuba Theater.

Other Christmas events include:

• Annual Tree Lighting Ceremony, City of Auburn Christmas Tree Square Nov. 30 at 4:30 p.m., Lincoln and High streets.

• Christmas in Coloma, which celebrates both the discovery of gold in California and the holiday season, at Marshall Gold Discovery State Historic Park on Highway 49 in Coloma. Music, period crafts, strolling musicians, 19th century Christmas demonstrations. December 8, from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Admission is free.

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