Portland’s Christmas Tree

Dear Liza,

This past Friday evening, a 75 foot Christmas tree erected in Pioneer Square, also known as Portland’s Living Room, was lit up beautifully as the whole city sang. This has happened the night after Thanksgiving every year for 36 years.

Thousands of our closest friends. downtown in 2019

Thomas Lauderdale, China Forbes, and the rest of Pink Martini played and sang Christmas Carols. Thousands of Portlanders sang along, led in the lyrics by a projected Christmas tree bouncing along the words. It was just like always!

Except that this year we were in our own living rooms and Pink Martini was on television, broadcast by local station KGW. We were sitting down and warm instead of standing up and freezing, we had our cat on our laps, and it was cozy.

But I still miss the crowds, the being together-ness, the palpable feeling of goodwill and community. Christmas isn’t just a time for family and friends, at least not in a big city. It is a time to make merry, eat, shop, walk, and sing with a whole bunch of strangers.

Auntie Christy, Grandpa Nelson and Auntie Bridgett with the tree last year

Thinking forward, we will be in for New Year’s, as well. Two years ago we went to Pink Martini’s show downtown, walking for hours between a fine dinner and the 10:00 show. It was cold, alright, but so beautiful. I took one of my favorite photos ever of the tree all lit up and the New Year’s moon.

Living Room tree and a New Year’s moon

This year will continue to be different, and I go back and forth on how I feel about it. Usually, my parents’ good natures win out and I know it will all turn out right if we all hunker down and do our best, but every now and then I get cranky and feel very put upon. That is when I try to have some alone time or take a nap, to keep from spreading the virus of my melancholy to the rest of the household.

Happiness, as Ruthie says, is a choice. So I will choose it.

Love,

Grandma Judy

Lighting the Tree in Portland’s Living Room

Dear Liza,

Crescent moon hovering over the traffic downtown

Last Friday was an event we have missed the past two Christmases here in Portland, the lighting of the City’s Christmas tree. But this year, we went!

The 1876 Pioneer Courthouse, lit up for company

Pioneer Square, between 6th and Broadway and Morrison and Yamhill downtown, was the location of the elegant Portland Hotel from 1890 to 1951. President Theodore Roosevelt stayed there in 1903. It was the fanciest, tallest Hotel in town!

All the trees are dressed up!

But by 1951 the hotel had become outdated and it was torn down, leaving a vacant lot used for that urban black hole, a Parking Lot. The city of Portland decided to create a public space and in 1984 the stair-stepped, brick covered City block opened and was quickly dubbed Portland’s Living Room.

Summer view of Pioneer Square from the Cupola of the Pioneer Courthouse

It is home to food trucks, a Starbucks, and a tourist information office. But mostly it is where folks go to meet friends, people watch, have a cup of coffee or eat their lunch, or enjoy some free music.

For the ceremony Friday, we took the number 15 bus downtown. We had a quick, tasty dinner at Killer Burger before joining the flood of folks heading to Pioneer Square.

Looming dark tree

The still-dark tree, a 75 foot sustainably grown Douglas Fir, stood like a tall shadow in the middle of 25,000 of winter outfitted people. Spirits were high and we were packed in shoulder to shoulder.

Pink Martini, one of our favorite music groups, was on stage (which we could hear, but not see), leading the crowd in Christmas Carols.

Happy, illuminated Tree!


At about 6:15, the countdown began and we all ooohed and ahhhed as the white lights twinkled and then colorful and Christmas-y lights came on, signaling the beginning of the season and the end of the ceremony.

The river of people reversed course and began flooding toward bus and train stops, still in good spirits but also chilly and foot sore.

This is one of the things I love about being in a big city, the chance to be part of Big groups of people doing things I love. Now, it is full speed to Christmas!

Lights and crowds heading back to the bus stops

Love,

Grandma Judy