Snow a no show for Sterling Christmas

Annual seasonal celebration tallies big crowds amid mild temps

By: Cortney Casey | Sterling Heights Sentry | Published December 11, 2012


It’s beginning to look a lot like … April?

Unseasonably warm weather — nearly 50 degrees — ushered in the 36th annual A Sterling Christmas event at Dodge Park Dec. 1, which attracted what very well may have been record crowds.

With the light snow of the week prior a distant memory, Mayor Richard Notte and the Sterling Heights City Council welcomed Santa Claus to the city after Sterling Civic Theatre members performed Christmas songs on stage at the Dodge Park band shell.

Per tradition, Santa arrived in a Sterling Heights police cruiser with lights flashing and sirens blaring, and, after greeting the crowd, led the countdown to the ceremonial lighting of the city’s star-topped Christmas tree.

The usual attractions encircled the park, including horse-drawn wagon rides, a petting farm, pony rides, refreshment stations, twin bonfires, an ice-carving demonstration area and a warmly lit Christmas carousel.

Robin Marra was among those checking out A Sterling Christmas for the first time; her interest was piqued by a flier her daughter brought home from school.

“We usually do Sterlingfest,” she said, as she snapped pictures of her kids in wooden Christmas scenes near the park entrance. “It sounded like a good family night. It’s just good, family fun.”

It was a similar situation for Brie Lipka, who had kids Nathan, 6, and Kylee, 3, in tow.

“I’ve lived here my whole life — I’ve never been here,” she said. “It was something for the kids.”

Lipka said she also appreciated the free admission. “A lot of things, you’ve got to pay for, you know?” she said. “And it’s nice that they kind of throw this together.”

Joan Powell and Rick Sorenson were merely driving by when the bonfires caught their eye and enticed them to stop. They perched at a picnic table near the stage, as they waited for the entertainment to begin.

“It’s the Christmas season, so we decided to check it out. We’ve never been here before, and we just wanted to see what it’s like,” said Sorenson. Powell said she was looking forward to the music — and people watching.

Former Sterling Heights residents, Karen and Tom Flaherty, drove in from Auburn Hills to continue their annual family tradition with grandkids Katherine Hill, 7, and Stephen Hill, 4, who still live in the city.

“Oh, it’s wonderful,” said Karen Flaherty of why they keep returning, year after year. “There’s so many activities for the children. I personally love animals, so where there are horses and sheep and goats, I love to be.”

Plus, there’s the appeal of some unusual attractions, not often seen at municipal holiday events, she added.

“The wagon rides are something kids don’t ever get to do,” she said. “I grew up on a farm, so I like to see them have a chance to be around animals.”

“Everybody has Santa,” agreed Tom Flaherty. “But all these other things, doing it outdoors — it’s really nice.”

Kyle Langlois, the city’s parks and recreation manager, estimated that more than 4,500 people attended the event, and he said, “I would venture we were close to 5,000. Definitely the most I’ve had since I’ve been here, so (at least) the past seven years.”

Langlois said he suspects the mild weather played a part, but he also believes it’s just a matter of buzz around town about the event’s quality.

Encountering many long-time residents who, like Lipka, were in attendance for the first time, “It leads me to believe … word of mouth; our product is good,” he said. “Somebody’s saying, ‘Hey, you can’t miss this event.’ And/or our marketing efforts. I’m sure now, with Facebook and Twitter, everything else we’re able to use, I think that plays a role.”