Sleigh bells ring, are you listening? Right now on 3rd St., ice is glistening . . . So what are you waiting for, Santa Claus? There's a Winterfest Wonderland waiting for you and all your Christmas dreams downtown next to the BOK Center.
It has been many a year since Tulsans have experienced a white Christmas in Green Country, so if visions of sugar plum fairies are dancing around in your head, and you need a little Christmas, right this very minute, Urban Tulsa Weekly has an early Christmas present for you.
For the second year, your favorite alternative weekly has teamed up with a lot of great sponsors to present Arvest Winterfest, an outdoor skating rink and icy hot holiday destination-dream-turned-reality for lower Midwesterners more accustomed to brown and bright than snowy and white this time of year.
In your dreams, do you walk under an archway decorated with Nutcrackers and lights? Do you envision a toweringly tall Christmas tree above ice skaters gliding, almost floating to your favorite yuletide tunes? Well, almost floating. Some of them might be warming up their routine for the 2010 Winter Olympics, while others fall, laugh and try to stay standing on the ice rink.
Stacey Sherrell is one of many who have attended the two-year-old winter festival this year.
"It's so cool," Sherrell said. "The blue trees are all lit up, and they have a little rest area next to the (ice) rink. You can watch from there, and it's a lot warmer."
With the cold weather barreling down upon us and the holiday shopping crowds growing intense, Winterfest is a respite from the maddening crowd.
Tulsans driving through downtown in the past month have been able to see the setting turn from everyday normal to holiday-festive--complete with lights, an outdoor ice rink and what's said to be by the BOK Center to be the tallest Christmas tree in Oklahoma.
Arvest Winterfest 2009 hit Tulsa on Black Friday, Nov. 27 outside of the BOK Center on Third Street, between Denver and Frisco Ave. The festival continues through Jan. 4.
Winterfest has shifted around the BOK Center from its old location at Frisco Avenue between 2nd and 3rd streets to provide a better view from passersby, though the view of downtown is limited, inexplicably, the the big white tent obscuring the view of downtown.
Nonetheless, "SMG and the BOK Center have made significant enhancements to this year's festival that are certain to impress you, including a much larger ice rink, a wonderful new location and an even taller Christmas tree," said John Bolton, the BOK Center general manager, in a press release.
Winterfest aims to be remembered for taking the classic Christmas decor and putting it on a larger scale.
"It's a really magical experience," said Jeff Nickler, BOK Center Special Events manager. "You get to be on the ice, under the skyline, with the glass wall of the BOK Center and the Christmas tree both lit up. It's just a really great holiday experience, for anyone at any age."
Winterfest hosts Tulsa's only outdoor ice rink, and it daily attracts a wide-ranging crowd, from families to young couples to college students. It's fun and an experience that you can only get once a year.
"It's the main focus," Nickler said. This year the ice rink is more than twice as big as last year's, measuring to 9,000 square feet.
Possibly even more exciting, admission is only $8 with skates or $5 if you bring your own as well as for children under 3. There are even promotions at the ice rink that make it even cheaper while giving a great opportunity to help the community out.
Bring a can of non-perishable food for the Community Food Bank on Mondays between 4pm and 10pm, and get in with skate rental for only $4. Tuesdays, for the same price at the same time, bring a new unwrapped toy for the Salvation Army Toy Drive. Not into skating? As great as the rink might be, there remains plenty to do at Winterfest for those not looking for a wet bottom.
One feature of Winterfest is "Segway Santa." Every Sunday in December between 1pm and 4pm, Santa travels around on his festive tinsel-covered Segway (a small electronic vehicle that's similar to a scooter, only it's not) spreading joy, handing out candy canes and posing for photo ops.
"When he's here, everyone wants a photo with him," Nickler said, noting that both young and old have stopped by to see the ultra-mobile Santa who zooms around the main plaza of the BOK Center.
There is no charge to take pictures with the jolliest man at Winterfest, and you just need to remember to bring your camera.
When Segway Santa is not at Winterfest, though, there are still plenty of opportunities to get those fun family portraits, the most notable being in front of the Christmas tree. Have we mentioned the Christmas tree?
Winterfest's tree reached new heights last year with a 35-foot-tall tree, which was said to be by the BOK Center as the tallest tree in Oklahoma that year. This year, the even-more-enormous-tree stands at 44 feet. With a few more feet, Tulsa's Winterfest tree might be competing with the White House Christmas tree, which is an 85-foot Blue Spruce from Arizona, or better yet the Rockefeller Christmas Tree, a 76-foot tall Norway spruce tree.
"It took a crew of about 10 people four days to put it up," Nickler said, noting that the tree has over 35,000 lights and a base about 25 feet across. The tree is the most popular picture spot at Winterfest this year, according to Nickler.
While the tree, ice rink and other attractions are crucial parts of Winterfest, the event really focuses on Tulsa.
"The musical performances are all local groups, mainly church and school bands and choirs," Nickler said. "It's a different twist, instead of rock bands, it's more of community entertainment."
While some locals entertain at Winterfest with song, others will entertain with skilled grace on the ice.
Ice skating exhibitions, which are 20-minutes long and happen every Sunday and Thursday, are performed by locals, too. The Winterfest performers, with ages ranging between 10 to 18, are keeping the tradition of inner-city skating and are members of the Tulsa Figure Skating Club, which has been in Tulsa for more than 70 years. The performances, like all of Winterfest, are very kid-friendly and put on a good show. After the performance, you can stay and try your hand at skating like a pro until 10pm.
While there is something for all ages at Winterfest, the activities are generally family-oriented.
"It's really cool to see young families taking their kids out for the first time," Nickler said.
A really popular feature for young children has been Daisy the Face Painting Lady. She's at Winterfest every weekend and paints children's faces with whatever they would like, according to Nickler.
Most designs only take 2-3 minutes to complete. Daisy has been painting in Tulsa since 1996. At Winterfest, you can find Daisy in the warming tent with her several brilliant colors of non-allergenic paint.
Also great for the family are carriage rides. Dreamcatcher Carriages are at Winterfest Fridays through Sunday between 6pm and 9pm with old-fashioned horse and carriage rides.
The 15-minute rides show the beautiful side of downtown Tulsa by a carriage being pulled by two Percheron horses.
"They are a breed of horses the knights rode during jousting because they are very tall and gentle," said Sondra Reeves, owner of Dreamcatcher Carriages. "We bring old-fashioned Christmas to downtown Tulsa."
The carriages seat four people each and rides cost $10 per adult and $5 per child. It's definitely not warm outside anymore, but Reeves has taken care of that.
"We have authentic carriage blankets to stay warm. You definitely have to have those."
The carriage rides, while family-friendly, are definitely ideal for a romantic night on the town. For guys looking to score some romantic bonus points, a carriage ride like this could be the ticket, or at the very least a grand gesture.
"Last year we had several marriage proposals," Reeves said. "If we know there is a special proposal planned, we go a special, more romantic and private route."
Ready for date night but not an engagement? The carriage driver can also take you to a downtown restaurant (review the selection in your copy of Urban Tulsa) as well as pick you up. Reeves was involved in Winterfest last year and has been operating in Tulsa since 2000, and she definitely has no plans to stop being a fixture in the holiday festival. "As long as there is Winterfest, we plan to be a part of it," she said.
All this carriage riding, skating and Segway Santa-chasing can certainly build up an appetite, and when it does you'll have quite a few options from which to select on site.
The Winterfest location features a wide range of foods, from smore's to tomato soup to Polish sausage. There are also soups, sandwiches and cookies. So whether you're really hungry or you just have a bit of a sweet tooth, you can find something to suit your craving.
The concessions hut also sells a variety of drinks. Cold after some time on the ice? Hot chocolate or cappuccinos should warm you right up. They have egg nog, soda and bottled water, too. They also offer "Hot Hard Apple Cider" and beer for guests 21 and over.
Any hot beverage can be purchased for $9 in a commemorative Winterfest tumbler, and refills are only $2. And with the coldest days still to come, the tumbler will be great for your own hot drinks that you'll need for the next few months as well as a souvenir for years to come.
All the food, fun and excitement of Winterfest still goes back to a holiday celebration for the enjoyment of the community. The local festivities and entertainment make it possible to enjoy Tulsa's talent and have a great holiday experience without going out of town.
"It brings the family together to enjoy things generally available in Tulsa," Reeves said. "That's what we're all about-- making dreams come true."
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