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Leavenworth: You don't have to travel far for holiday magic

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Photo courtesy of Visit Leavenworth
Photo courtesy of Visit Leavenworth

Before my recent visit to the Christmastown event in Leavenworth, Washington, I had never explored that strange, faux-Bavarian town, a place so Olde World that it required its local McDonald's to conform to the "Bavarian-Alpine" aesthetic. The extent of my previous Leavenworth experience had been gawking at Lederhosen-clad oompah-band musicians as I passed through on my way to Spokane.

My fiancée proposed a day trip to Leavenworth to see the Christmas lights with some friends. Luckily, Stevens Pass was open, and we had a Jeep that could safely traverse the ice and snow.

Having made it through the treacherous pass, we arrived in town with a new challenge: finding a parking spot on one of the town's busiest tourist days. After circling the blocks in vain, not only did we finally see some people who were leaving, but also, in a gesture of Christmas kindness, they gave us their daylong parking pass.

The slick streets were packed with people sliding from one store, restaurant, or musical performance to the next. Every building and tree was covered in hundreds of Christmas lights that looked like static lightning bugs waiting patiently in a twisting line. Small children in puffy snowsuits were being tugged around on sleds.

I walked past a Santa Claus actor to go down some stairs into the Andreas Keller to see about getting on a waitlist. The hallway to the front desk was crowded and awkward as people tried to leave and enter; I pressed myself to the wall to make room for a stroller. People kept standing in the doorway, allowing the heat to escape and sending one server into a fit.

"Close the door!" she would yell from the dining area. "You either come in or get out!"

The wait was an hour long, but we'd taken too many peeks at the food served to change our minds. Whatever we were smelling and seeing was too good to pass up. We gave the host a phone number and squeezed our way back down the hall to return to the surface world.

My friends and I tried samples in a specialty cheese shop, including a sweet, mango cheesecake flavored cheese that would be perfect crumbled atop toasted bread. We visited a tea shop whose walls were lined with jar upon jar of loose leaf, filling the room with their spiced aromas; and a candy shop where we scored pop rocks to noisily rip into, laughing together as the treat crackled on our tongues.

We glanced at the time and hurried back to the restaurant and through the line of hungry customers. Seated at last, I looked around the room at people happily chowing down on their Schweinshaxe (a Munich-style pork hock) and Spaetzle (a handmade pasta made with eggs).

Along one wall were booths made from giant wine barrels you sit inside. The other walls were adorned with Bavarian art, and the servers dressed in Old World style. It was like stepping into the past.

We ordered giant fresh pretzels, and once they were presented to us, we dug into the steaming hot bread. I was so busy finishing off the last remnants of the pretzels that I had nearly forgotten the Jaegerschnitzel (pounded pork cutlet with mushroom sauce) I had ordered.

The Jaegerschnitzel, a slab of breaded and flattened pork, reminded me of chicken fried steak, one of my great-grandmother's favorite recipes when I was little. How might this taste like home for those with Bavarian heritage who feasted on family recipes passed down to one after the other? Leavenworth presents an excellent opportunity to learn more about a culture and for Bavarian descendants to celebrate it.

We ate our fill and went back outside to sing along with the crowd as performers played "Sweet Caroline." Everyone looked like they had been dusted with powdered sugar as the snow fluttered down, and on the song's chorus, we all sang "dun dun dun" in joyful unison. My fiancée and I huddled together under the lights. She gave my hand three squeezes, which for us means "I love you."

Now that Christmas has passed, you may be kicking yourself for not taking the trip to experience Christmastown for yourself. Not to worry. Luckily for you, the lights will remain until the end of February, offering plenty of chances to see Leavenworth glow, sparkle, and sing. Not to mention, you may have a better chance of scoring a hotel room and a parking spot, and of being seated in the town's restaurants with little wait time.

This winter, after two years of pandemic-caused cancellations, Leavenworth is restarting its events, including its "Love from Leavenworth" Valentine's event in February. If there is someone special in your life, now is a good time to plan a getaway. Leavenworth is a beautiful town with plenty of opportunities for making fond memories.