Inspired by Saks Fifth Avenue, This Holiday Tradition Attracts Half a Million Visitors Each Year

For 30 nights, the Bellevue Collection, located in the heart of the city that both Bill Gates and Jeff Bezos call home, transforms into a winter wonderland known as Snowflake Lane. 

Photo of author
Karee Blunt

For 30 consecutive nights, it snows in Bellevue, Washington, beginning at precisely 7:00 pm. Christmas music fills the air while spectators fill the sidewalks, anticipating this one-of-a-kind, high-energy parade that rivals any Disney production.

From November 25 – December 24, the Bellevue Collection, located in the heart of the city that both Bill Gates and Jeff Bezos call home, transforms into a winter wonderland known as Snowflake Lane. 

“Snowflake Lane is one of the community’s most cherished traditions of the holiday season,” said VP of Marketing for The Bellevue Collection, Jennifer Leavitt. “There is nothing like it anywhere in the country. We’re so grateful to be a part of such memorable moments for our guests and to bring such a sense of wonder to the kid in all of us.”

Snowflake Lane polar bear
Image Credit: Our Woven Journey

Creating Magic

To the delight of the crowd — as many as 20,000 each night — 55 snow machines produce more than 940 gallons during the month, creating the perfect atmosphere for the magic to happen.

Seven-year-old Ava England from Spokane, WA, came on opening night with her parents and five-year-old brother. Her eyes lit up as a Stilt Walker handed her a candy cane, and Mrs. Klause blew a kiss from her place on a float. When asked if she enjoyed the parade, Ava exclaimed, “This is my favorite thing I’ve ever done!” 

Girl at Snowflake Lane
Image Credit: Canva

The Cast of Snowflake Lane

This year, 380 people auditioned for parts in Bellevue’s parade, and for many of the 174 cast members selected, this is their first paying job. Coming from all over Puget Sound, they are happy for the chance to participate in the parade. For some, it’s as much a tradition as Christmas itself.

Tim Selix has been part of Snowflake Lane since the beginning, only missing two seasons. He shared, “I was one of the original Toy Soldiers and now I lead them down the parade. It’s my favorite time of year, and I really enjoy seeing the kids’ smiles as we go by. It’s a lot of fun!”

Snowflake Lane consists of 16 festive floats, 36 Drummers, 16 Jingle Belles, 22 Snow Belles, 16 Color Guards, 13 Stilt Walkers, 45 Costume Characters, 8 Majorettes, and 18 Float Patrols. For 23 minutes each night, they come together to dazzle the crowds with choreographed dances, sing-a-long music, and the arrival of Santa.

“This is my 5th year to be in the parade, and I’ve been coming since I was a kid. To come back as a dancer and bring happiness and holiday cheer to all the kids and families is so much fun!” said Baylee Lowe, a Jingle Belle dancer and manager.

For some, it’s a family affair, like the Ribbon Twirler who entertains the crowds from her position atop a float while her grandmother drives the cart that pulls it. Or the five cast members who enjoy performing together and making Snowflake Lane one of their family’s holiday traditions.

Leavitt also shared, “Additions this year include a new dance troupe called the Snow Belles and a new selection of music bringing even more excitement to our holiday show.” 

float driver snowflake lane
Image Credit: Our Woven Journey

The Story Behind Snowflake Lane

It all started when Kemper Freeman, a third-generation real estate developer in Bellevue, visited New York City during the holiday season. He heard the Christmas music from two blocks away and was intrigued. When he saw Saks Fifth Avenue lit up with lights and decorations, he was so impressed it inspired him to create a one-of-a-kind Christmas celebration for the Pacific Northwest

Kemper is uniquely qualified to do just that. Seventy-five years ago, his grandfather, Miller Freeman, bought ten acres of land in Bellevue with the idea of building a shopping center. That was the beginning of what is now known as the Bellevue Collection. 

Over the years, it has grown into a 5.5 million square foot portfolio of Bellevue Square, Lincoln Square, and Bellevue Place. The collection now features some of the world’s finest retail brands, three luxury hotels, fine dining, and family entertainment.

It was during one of the expansions when Freeman realized, “We’re about to double the size of our frontage on Bellevue Way — what could be better to celebrate the opening of being on both sides of the street than to promote it from the street itself?”

Santa at Snowflake Lane 2
Image Credit: Our Woven Journey

Bringing the Dream to Life

Realizing he would need help to bring his vision to life, Freeman turned to Greg Thompson, a longtime friend and college buddy. Thompson’s vast experience with his own production company proved exactly what the show needed, and Freeman’s dream of bringing the excitement of Fifth Avenue to Bellevue, Washington became a reality.

“Christmas is the one holiday where people are still getting together with family and friends and are looking for things to do to amplify the season. Snowflake Lane is a wonderful reason. It was a home run from the first minute it started,” said Freeman, “and one of the most anticipated events in the Pacific Northwest.”

For nearly two decades, the Kemper Family and the Bellevue Collection have personally gifted the annual parade to the community.

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This article was produced and published by Our Woven Journey.

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