The Friday after Thanksgiving means bargains for many - a very specific kind of frantic, delirious deal-hunting combat, unlike the kind of window-shopping that accompanied a traditional American Christmas.
But, in downtown Minot, the atmosphere was entirely different; one might call it classic.
It was downtown Minot's annual Open House, and while it certainly brought deserving recognition to downtown businesses, the feeling was that of a festival, not one of capitalism. Parking was equally as scarce as it was at America's malls, but there was no fighting over deals. No one got trampled along the path to hot holiday loot. In place of the nervous anxiety of calculated gift-getting was something most shopping malls seem to lack, a spirit of community.
Jesse D. Watson/MDN
Looking south, up N. Main St., is a view of what Bonnie Kemper referred to as “Candy Cane Lane.”
Under the shadow of a 25-foot Christmas tree, to be lit as the capstone of the night, were street vendors, events, attractions and festivities, peppering the roads and buildings of the historic area. Mr. and Mrs. Claus ate dinner as part of a special appearance at All Saints Episcopal Church. The Clauses were the stars of the night, posing for photos with kids and adults alike, but the guests of honor were the public, enjoying holiday-themed food and drinks and browsing more than 30 shops. Carolers came down Main Street and popular hayrides went up and down the roads.
People were already clustered eagerly near the tree long before the lighting ceremony. Once Bonnie Kemper, president of the Minot Downtown Business and Professional Association, took the stage, the crowd pressed in and clapped excitedly.
Kemper stood in front of the assembled audience with Minot Mayor Curt Zimbelman, Col. James Dawkins Jr. of the Minot Air Force Base, and Father Justin Waltz of St. Leo's Catholic Church.
"Here I am with these three distinguished gentlemen," Kemper said, wearing a bright red snowsuit, "and I'm dressed like a clown!"
The temperature, much chillier than recent years, was referred to more than once. "It's great to see so many people on this less-than-warm night," she gratefully acknowledged. Though it was colder than usual, the turn-out was as high as ever, maybe higher.
Father Waltz was asked to bless the tree. He also made mention of circumstances from last year, saying, "We're mindful of those still suffering the repercussions of the flood."
Col. Dawkins also recognized the progress that has been made and commented, "What a difference a year makes."
Mayor Zimbelman also spoke. "You mean I'm not here to pardon a turkey tonight?" he asked an appreciative crowd.
"There will be some major changes downtown in the next few years, so look forward to that," speaking of all the construction projects and renovations that so much business is bringing to downtown Minot.
Kemper agreed, having everyone turn around and look south, up N. Main Street. "That's Candy Cane Lane," she proudly told the Christmas mob. "It might look different next year," she pondered, and seemed to want folks to savor the present moment since things could be changing quickly.
Kemper made sure to thank as many people as she could before the local news cameras were ready to film. "I could sing," she laughed, "but that might drive you away."
She wanted to acknowledge the downtown businesses of course, and she called special attention to the Wine Walk sponsors, an event from which the proceeds go entirely to beautifying the downtown; putting flowers in during warmer weather, the music and speaker systems that see use most of the year, and the Christmas tree that was about to come to brilliant life.
There was a countdown, the crowd participating raucously, and with an almost physical sensation, the tree burst into white life. "That's what 30,000 lights looks like," Kemper declared.
Many stayed to take photos, and many more trotted through the frigid cold to get to warm buildings or vehicles, the night having hit its apex.
The tree will be lit throughout the season at 10-N. Main St.