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Originally published November 23, 2013 at 7:07 PM | Page modified November 26, 2013 at 11:39 AM

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5 holiday happenings in Portland

From hundreds of tubas playing carols in the square to a “yarn bombing” of downtown sculptures, the “Portlandia” city refuses to be boring.


Seattle Times travel writer

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A city that produces a show like “Portlandia” can’t take itself too seriously. So it stands to reason that, during the holidays, Portland knows how to get jolly.

In addition to sales-tax-free shopping, here are five ideas for a holiday-season visit:

1. Get your oompah on

Tuba Christmas is part of an international celebration, and Portland plays it up big, with more than 225 tuba players rocking the Richter scale in Pioneer Courthouse Square, downtown’s biggest public-gathering place (and home to the city’s 75-foot Christmas tree). Try playing a CD of “God Rest Ye Merry, Gentlemen” on your home stereo with only the subwoofer hooked up and you’ll kind of get the idea.

Info: This year’s free, 90-minute concert of holiday favorites is at 1:30 p.m. Dec. 14; tubachristmas.com. The square is at Broadway and Morrison Street, across from the downtown Nordstrom store. Appropriate fashion accessory: Santa hats.

2. Celebrate with knitwear

Have you heard of yarn bombing, in which obsessed (or slightly loony) knitters coat urban trees and other objects in sweaters and such? It’s sort of like textile tagging.

“In Portland, we’re stepping it up a notch,” said Megan Conway, of Travel Portland. Look for yarn-bombed statues around Pioneer Courthouse Square this holiday season, with a special “Ugly Christmas Sweater” theme.

Where to start: the iconic bronze sculpture of artist John Seward Johnson II’s “Allow Me,” an umbrella-holding man hailing a cab. Look for other sweatered sculptures nearby, from “Kvinneakt,” a bronze nude, to sculptor Georgia Gerber’s playful bronze otters, deer and other creatures along Yamhill and Morrison streets between Fifth and Sixth avenues. See downtownportland.org/uglysweaterpdx.

Info: The ugly-sweater theme extends to special offers by area hotels:

• Wear an ugly sweater at check-in on Ugly Sweater Sundays and Mondays and receive a free upgrade (through Dec. 16) at the Mark Spencer Hotel; markspencer.com.

• The Palm Court at the Benson Hotel will serve an ugly-sweater-inspired cranberry cocktail, Granny’s Cranny, for half-price to anyone in an ugly sweater; Nov. 25-Dec. 25, coasthotels.com .

• Take your pet along to the Heathman Hotel, where four-legged guests will receive their very own ugly-holiday sweater. The hotel’s bronze statue of Portland celebrity bulldog Zelda Wisdom will sport an ugly sweater hand knit by a hotel employee; portland.heathmanhotel.com.

3. Beer = cheer

If big, bold ales can fend off the chill of a long winter’s night, then Portland will make you feel all warm and fuzzy Dec. 4-8.

The annual Holiday Ale Festival features more than 50 potent winter ales, from Belgians and barleywines to stouts and sours. It’s all under a clear-topped, open-air tent (with heaters) just beneath the tree in Pioneer Courthouse Square. Look for libations ranging from “Barrel-Aged Polar Blast” porter from Vertigo Brewing of Hillsboro, Ore., to “Spiced Unicorn Milk” stout from Stone Brewing of California. Save a gingerbread man to dip in a pint of Beernog, from Bend’s 10 Barrel Brewing: ale spiced with cinnamon, nutmeg, allspice, rum-soaked raisins and cocoa nibs. Ho, ho, hoo-boy.

Oh — in terms of warm and fuzzy, the emphasis might be on “fuzzy,” since many of the brews are in the range of 10 percent alcohol-by-volume and higher. (Designated driver or nearby hotel recommended.)

Info: $30 includes souvenir mug and 10 beer tickets; advance online purchase gets two extra tickets and expedited entry. Ages 21 and older only; holidayale.com.

4. Mansion of merriment

A 22-room French Renaissance-style château in Portland’s West Hills, Pittock Mansion, is festooned in holiday décor and Christmas trees each December.

Built in 1909 for the publisher of The Oregonian, Henry Pittock, the estate is owned by the Portland Parks & Recreation Department. These days, Christmas at the Pittock is a headline event.

This year’s holiday theme is “A Locally Crafted Christmas.” From professional artisans honing their skills to Portland’s do-it-yourselfers, more than 80 volunteers will help deck the mansion’s many halls.

Info: Holiday tours Nov. 25-Jan. 2; $7-$10, free for children 5 and younger; pittockmansion.org .

5. Garden of lights

The Grotto, a 62-acre Catholic shrine, is built around a high rock promontory in East Portland and features formal gardens, a replica of Michelangelo’s Pietà, and other features that make it a visitor attraction year round. But it receives the most visitors every holiday season for its Christmas Festival of Lights.

Attractions include 500,000 lights, 150 choral performances, a petting zoo, carolers, puppet shows and hot chocolate, making it popular with families.

Info: Nov. 29-Dec. 30, 5-9:30 p.m.; $4-$9, free for children 2 and younger. Northeast 85th Street at Sandy Boulevard; thegrotto.org/christmas .

Honorable mentions

Christmas Ship Parades on Willamette and Columbia rivers. Private boats by the dozen do it up right and bright; Dec. 6-21, free, christmasships.org .

Wine Country Thanksgivingopen house at Willamette Valley wineries (just west of Portland), Nov. 29-Dec. 1; www.willamettewines.com .

Portland Cello Project Winter Sweater Spectacular offers “winter-themed music from numerous cultures and historical periods told through the versatile lens of the cello” — and with a winter-sweater theme; Dec. 20, $25-$40, Arlene Schnitzer Concert Hall; portlandcelloproject.com/schnitz.

Brian J. Cantwell: bcantwell@seattletimes.com



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