Many years ago when I was a child, there was one holiday song that created a strange longing in my young heart. It began with “City sidewalks, busy sidewalks dressed in holiday style, in the air there’s a feeling of Christmas.” (Now you’re humming it, aren’t you?) You see, my family lived in the suburbs, in a 1960s ranch house among many other 60s ranch houses. Our neat grids of streets had no sidewalks, no streetlights, no storefronts…just asphalt pavement butting up to neatly mowed lawns.

The idea of experiencing Christmas in a city was foreign to me, and I always thought it must be magical to walk those sidewalks during the bustle of the holidays. To browse festive store windows, stroll under bedecked light posts, hear the shop doorbells jingling as people exited with bags of goodies (my imagination was likely influenced by old movies and television), all seemed to represent the perfect urban holiday atmosphere.

Fast forward many years, and here I am living in the Mid-Ohio Valley, just outside a little city that is bedecked for the holidays. To make it even better, I am lucky enough to own a little shop with festively decorated windows situated on a city sidewalk. A few steps from my shop door a glossy black lamppost is hung with a beautiful wreath and garland. I am literally experiencing the lyrics to a classic song, right here in Marietta.

We may tend to forget that we live and work in a special little city, this historic river town with all its charm and personality. But when dusk falls and the holiday lights twinkle to life, Marietta is transformed into a magical landscape that will surely put a smile on even the scroogiest of Scrooges. Even during this strangest of years you can add some joy and holiday spirit to your busy routine with a visit to our downtown.  In fact, you and your family can safely practice social distancing while still enjoying the festive atmosphere and holiday displays.

On the Armory lawn, a towering Christmas tree welcomes visitors, courtesy of Marietta Main Street, community volunteers and city staff. Just steps away, a fabricated Who-ville type village stands ready to delight your kids and offers a fun photo prop. The village was sponsored by Jeremiah’s Coffee Shop, and their employees worked with the elves from the Mid-Ohio Valley Players to bring the idea to reality.  That type of collaborative effort is what enables our small town to dream up big projects.

A few blocks away, Muskingum Park is decked out with old-school lighted “sculptures” that in previous years were installed at the Ohio River levee.  The walkway leading to and surrounding the Gazebo is lined with fifty Christmas trees, each one sponsored and decorated by a local organization.  For the month of December, you can stop and admire the ornaments and special messages adorning the trees, another collaboration between Marietta Main Street and the city.

At the corner of Second and Putnam, the Peoples Bank building is a can’t-miss tribute to the holiday spirit. The façade is awash in color at night, and the street level windows feature vintage animated characters reminiscent of 1950s department stores. Crown Florals of Parkersburg designs the opulent settings with a different theme each year. Kids will delight in watching the figures move amid the nostalgic scenes, just as children did so many years ago. And up and down the blocks, businesses have turned their front windows into bountiful displays of merchandise, holiday décor and tantalizing gift ideas. Just inside the threshold of each doorway is a friendly business owner, ready to greet you with a warm welcome. Each locally owned business offers customer service and unique items to help you finish your shopping without the stress of a crowded mall, and often just steps away from where you parked! Don’t be surprised if you hear the clip-clop of horses on the street – carriage rides are a frequent downtown occurrence in Marietta.

The friendly greetings don’t stop with business owners – while you are strolling the sidewalks and taking in the sights and sounds of the season, you’ll often get a pleasant hello or nod. It’s just the way we are in Marietta, we enjoy getting visitors and making them feel welcome. “Children laughing, people passing, meeting smile after smile” even if those smiles are hidden behind masks. During this uncertain season, the infectious holiday spirit of a small city like Marietta is good medicine for the weary heart.