Monday, December 12, 2016

Christmas in the City: The Grotto

Our story begins in a brush-snarled former quarry in the year 1923. Father Ambrose Mayer viewed the acreage with its 110-foot cliff and offered all the money he owned as a down payment. Supported by donations from near and far, he began the property's transformation. Brush was cleared, gardens were platted, and a large cave was carved into the cliffside. In 1924, the first Catholic mass was held at The Grotto, which Father Mayer built in honor of Mary, the mother of Jesus.

It would seem especially appropriate, then, to celebrate Christmas in this Garden; in fact, a centerpiece of the display is a beautiful life-sized nativity scene set in front of the namesake Grotto. Angels glow on the cliff above, and the entire lower garden is lit by over 500,000 lights placed by an army of volunteers.

Mittened and booted visitors wander through the light display and listen to carolers. The plaza area also offers puppet shows, live animals, and a gift shop. When the Northwest drizzle sets in, though, the place to be is in the 400-seat chapel. Renowned for its acoustics, this sanctuary hosts five concerts each evening of the Christmas season.

This display has been a Portland family tradition for decades, so plan on finding a crowd. The unassuming Northeast neighborhood doesn't seem to know what hit it, and the small parking lot fills quickly. Click here for a map, as well as directions, schedules, ticket prices, and general information. If the lot is full, look for parking in a nearby side street, or avoid the parking issue entirely by taking TriMet bus # 12 or 71. Please note that while the garden is accessible, the ground is uneven in places and most of the paths are lit only by Christmas lights.

While The Grotto is a Catholic shrine, everyone is welcome here. Don't hesitate to visit this beautiful garden at any time of the year. As Archbishop Alexander Christie declared at The Grotto's opening mass:

"Let this be a sanctuary of peace for all peoples of the earth, and surely in this day a sanctuary is needed. Torn with differences, strife, and grief, the world needs sanctuary where the human spirit can seek peace and consolation."

Merry Christmas!

Tuesday, December 6, 2016

Christmas in the Valley: The Oregon Garden

As a rule, gardens aren't popular places to hang out after dark in December, especially in rainy western Oregon. The Oregon Garden near Silverton has found a solution to the muddy winter doldrums, however: Christmas in the Garden.

This garden is known for its creative plantings, its proximity to Frank Lloyd Wright's Gordon House, and its family- and pet-friendly grounds. While December evening visitors will find the Gordon House shut up tight, they will encounter ice skating, snowless tubing, and acres of colored lights. Vendors offer unique handcrafted gifts, the snack booth sells gluhwein (I did not make that up), and Santa Claus holds court inside a cozy garden shed. Families convene around blazing firepits and carolers spread Christmas joy.

An open tram runs continuously through the garden, whisking visitors to their destinations. While tram stops are easy to find, and while the weather may encourage sitting undercover for a few minutes, consider walking at least part of the way. The decorated areas are generously lit and easy to navigate; most paths are even stroller-friendly.

The garden can seem huge and mazelike, and it's even more so in low light. Click here for a map of the entire garden; be aware, however, that not all areas are lit for Christmas. Avoid the unlit parts, as it may be difficult to find your way, and besides, you won't see anything in the dark.

Coming in near the gift shop, watch for a brightly-lit square with glowing ball ornaments. Look uphill toward the resort building for an overview of the illuminated planting beds, all laid out in colorful plaid. Wander among the beds, or turn right and follow the lights to find the snowless tubing. The square is also a good spot to catch the tram.

Watch for a red and white lighted tunnel; stop at the information booth at its entrance and pick up a map. Once through the tunnel, you will find yourself in the marketplace, with booths, firepits, and the live music tent. Of course, all is brightly lit with Christmas lights. Enjoy a hot drink next to an outdoor heater, or pick up a pretzel to nibble. Follow a lighted pathway to the ice skating tent; skates are available to rent, as well as bobbies for beginners. The rink is crowded with families having fun and falling down, making it a perfect spot to get warm and people-watch even if you don't skate (please note that dogs are not allowed in the skating tent). Coming back through the candy-cane tunnel, walk over to the resort building for an overview of the garden lights. You can catch the tram here, or you can stroll downhill through a second lighted tunnel.

The website is full of useful information, including ticket prices, fees, hours, and frequently asked questions. Be sure to check out the schedule calendar, as many of the activities are only offered on certain evenings. Plan ahead so you won't be disappointed.

This is Oregon, so bundle up, bring boots for the kids, and put a raincoat on your pooch. You may have stars overhead, or good old Oregon drizzle, but Christmas is in the Garden. Head to the off-the-beaten-path town of Silverton and start a new family tradition.

Watch for a small, crimson-lit trail that strays off the beaten path. Here you will find the home of Krampus, a creature that visits naughty children in the days before Christmas to kidnap them and leave a lump of coal in their place. Thankfully Krampus made no appearance at this festive celebration.