Kicking Off The Holidays In Cleveland

I love Christmas. There's something about the lights and how everyone seems to be in a much merrier mood that makes my heart smile. Total warm and fuzzy feeling.

For me, the official start to the holiday season is Cleveland's annual Winterfest. Like I've done in past years, I met up with my girlfriends.

But rather than watch the entire tree lighting ceremony, we chose to visit the 5th Street Arcades first to check out handmade gifts from local artists. [Side note: Remember to shop local this holiday. (Unless you have a tween into anime because it's difficult to find a local shop selling anything-fangirl. Whatever that means.)]

The girls and I headed to Playhouse Square a half hour into the 90-minute show. Much to our surprise, event organizers decided not to wait until the end of the ceremony to light-up the city. We had timed our arrival perfectly, just in time to watch them flip the switch. The tree is impressive as always, but I did feel bad for the families who arrived too late for the big moment.

The weather was also "warmer" than seasons past. But oddly enough, it felt as though the crowd was smaller. I won't complain about the lack of wall-to-wall crowds, but the feel is less electric when you're not surrounded by tens of thousands of your neighbors. Perhaps people need frigid temperatures to fully get into the holiday spirit.

After the tree lighting, we chose not to stay for the rest of the ceremony and trudged from Playhouse Square to a packed Hodge's. My current favorites this season are the Brown Butter Fettuccine and the Mac and Cheese with dates and poblano. Try it. You won't regret it.

Up next was a Cavs game with the girls and a last second win thanks to LeBron James and an awesome buzzer beater. This is the second time I've included a Cavs game to my holiday schedule, and I think it will now officially be added as an annual tradition.

Tree lighting. Good food. Basketball. Time with friends. I cannot think of a better to start the Christmas season. What traditions kick off your holiday?