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Carols, gingerbread houses, Santa. How much more festive can you get?

Holiday Port Festival sets sail in the Bellingham Cruise Terminal

The Holiday Port Festival kicks off the winter season in the city of Bellingham. The festival is free to attend and is open Saturday and Sunday from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. // Photos by Alex Hodson and Harper Hamilton 

Those looking for a festive place to kick off the winter season can check out the Holiday Port Festival this weekend at the Bellingham Cruise Terminal.

The festival is free to attend and is open Saturday and Sunday from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m.

A yearly tradition for the Port, the festival features live music, pictures with Santa and a gingerbread house-building contest that is open to participants of all ages.

“That's a big draw for the festival,” said Stephanie Wiley, the community outreach manager for the Port of Bellingham. “People come to see the incredible gingerbread houses that folks create.”

Part of the appeal of this contest is the opportunity for community input. “We post all of the photos online Saturday and Sunday and people can vote on their favorite houses, both in person and online,” Wiley said. 

The performances throughout the weekend provide a chance for local musicians of all ages to showcase their talents.

The Mt. Baker Toppers, a local acapella group that performs barbershop-style music, will be singing at the festival, which they’ve done for several years. Steve Hanft, a singer in the group, is familiar with the variety of performances typically seen at this event.

“They'll have high school groups come in, and those are usually bands,” Hanft said. “There will be some other groups like the Toppers, but you'll see plenty of jazz instrumentals as well.”

Along with the Toppers, the Bellingham Community Band has some carols lined up for the weekend. The brass group originated as a marching band made up of Bellingham High School 1998 alumni. 

“Families really like hearing the community band,” said Steve Koch, co-president of the group. “It's a 30- to 40-piece band right now, and we have people in the band who played music in college – in big bands and big universities.”

The holiday season is widely celebrated throughout the city of Bellingham. Along with the Port Festival, a downtown tree lighting and ornament hide-and-seek will be held in December. All of these events take meticulous planning that starts months in advance. 

Nathalie Wagler, the events and promotions coordinator for Downtown Bellingham Partnership, has first-hand experience with the planning that goes into the city’s local festivities.

“I would say probably mid-September is when we start planning,” Wagler said. “The holidays are kind of a tough one because we have to start planning in the summer when it's like, that's the last thing that I want to do is think about the holidays.”

The Port received entries into the gingerbread festival as early as September, which could explain the complexity of contestants’ creations. 

“There are gingerbread houses that are made by a two-year-old that are just really thrown together,” Hanft said. “And then there's gingerbread houses made by 'Mr. Engineer' with clockwork materials – moving parts and then everything in between.”

This year’s theme for the contest is the animal kingdom, which means there will be some wild designs on display.

“We’re just continuing on the tradition of having these local community groups have a space to perform and be able to share their talents with the community,” Wiley said. “It’s great that we have this beautiful building at the cruise terminal with some of the best views in the city of Bellingham.”

Alex Hodson

Alex Hodson (he/him) is a city news reporter for The Front this quarter. He is a second-year pre-major in journalism. When not working on The Front, he likes to play pickleball, watch movies, drink coffee and sing in Western's Concert Choir. You can reach him at

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