As temperatures drop and snowflakes swirl in the air, thoughts turn to hot chocolate, holiday shopping and ice skating. Thankfully, the Roc Holiday Village is back for its fifth year, bringing all that holiday magic, fun, and more to the Martin Luther King Jr Memorial Park at Manhattan Square. Between December 1 and 23, Roc Holiday Village delivers 17 days of enchanting festivities and celebrations, attracting over 120,000 visitors to downtown Rochester.
We sat down with Kelli Marsh and Jenna Knauf, co-founders of the village, to learn more about what makes the whole experience so special.
HOW DID THE ROC HOLIDAY VILLAGE START?
Jenna Knauf: It started when I went to Byrant Park at the end of 2017. I saw the ice skating, big Christmas tree, shopping section and thought, ‘we could do this in Rochester!’ I had already been working closely with the Special Events department at the city to figure out how we could bring Santa back to Rochester, so this felt full circle. I engaged with Kelli and our other partner Sean McCarthy (owner of McCarthy Tents & Events), put together a PowerPoint presentation and brought it to the City’s Special Events and they said, ‘Yes, this is exactly what we want!’ But if we were going to do it, it had to be that year, so everything came together very quickly. From March to December 2018, we incorporated ourselves, created the entire plan and executed the first village.
Kelli Marsh: I traveled to Europe and went to roughly 10 different markets. The festive atmosphere of each market left me with a longing for something similar at home. When I came back to Rochester, I wondered why we didn’t have something like that. I wanted to find something not just for us to do, but for the community. Something for all generations and all backgrounds. We didn’t have it, so we had to make it.
HOW WOULD YOU DESCRIBE THE EXPERIENCE OF ROC HOLIDAY VILLAGE?
Kelli: The word that comes to mind is magical. We work really hard to create an event that doesn’t feel like you’re in downtown Rochester. It doesn’t feel like it’s cold, even though it’s cold. We’ve really tried to make a place that feels special – from twinkling lights to building Santa’s workshop.
We see so many smiling faces, and so many friends and families making memories. This is our fifth year operating and it’s already a tradition for some. I think it’s because it is a magical experience. You can enjoy the holiday and season without any other worries while you’re here.”
Jenna: The reason why we’re so successful in fundraising and having different groups want to be a part of this is because there’s a community feel. No matter who you are, this event is for you. No matter where you came from, you are going to get the same experience. Everyone gets free ice skating and skate rentals, free pictures with Santa, free crafts, live entertainment and carolers.
We also work with the different organizations of Rochester to celebrate four holidays at the Village. The Rochester Kwanzaa Coalition celebrates Kwanzaa with us; the Jewish Federation of Greater Rochester celebrates Hanukkah; the Puerto Rican Festival celebrates Three Kings’ Day and First Bible Baptist Church celebrates Christmas with us.
We are a city of open hearts and open arms. People are happy to give of their time and their energy, knowing that it’s all for a really good reason.
WHAT IS DIFFERENT ABOUT THIS YEAR’S ROC HOLIDAY VILLAGE?
- An additional Igloo Inn will be available for private parties of up to 30 people and will be located adjacent to the ice rink. A total of three Igloo Inns – one for up to 40 people and two for up to 30 people – are available to book now by emailing email@example.com.
- Rohrbach Brewing Company will debut a new beer in partnership with Roc Holiday Village called “Village Lager” – A crisp classic German lager that sparkles like the magic of Roc Holiday Village. With a bready malt backbone and subtle hops, Village Lager is an ode to the nostalgia of the holiday season.
- An expanded selection of free arcade games to enjoy inside the Rochester Area Community Foundation Triple-O Lodge
- Two Mini Maker Market dates – Wednesday, December 13 and Wednesday, December 20 from 4 to 9 p.m. in the Simcona Gingerbread House.
- The Giving Cup – A rotation of local nonprofit charitable organizations will be serving up delicious hot cocoa inside the Rochester Area Community Foundation Triple-O Lodge
- to raise money for their charities.
- Two free silent disco events will take place on the ice rink on Thursday, December 7, and Thursday, December 14 from 8 p.m. to 10 p.m. In case of inclement weather, Silent Disco will be relocated in the Simcona Gingerbread House.
- Bar Trivia will take place inside the Rochester Area Community Foundation Triple-O Lodge on Thursday, December 14 from 5 to 7 p.m. hosted by Rochester Pub Trivia.
WITH 17 DATES TO CHOOSE FROM, ARE THERE SPECIAL DAYS OR EVENTS THAT YOU RECOMMEND INDIVIDUALS CHECK OUT?
Jenna: The first Saturday (December 2), we are pairing up with the City of Rochester. Following the Liberty Pole Lighting, individuals can walk in a parade to the village where we’ll have free crafts for kids and of course free ice skating on the outdoor rink. There’s also a marching band that brings Santa in, signaling the official opening weekend of the village.
One of my favorite activities is live band karaoke, which takes place on three Wednesday nights. It’s karaoke but you’re backed by a full, live band. It’s a blast!
Kelli: We have ice rink events, which are always fun, including the Hockey Skills Competition with the Ryan Callahan Foundation. Even if you don’t participate, it’s really fun to watch the kids compete with the guidance of a former NHL player and Olympian. And they’re all cheering each other on!
Jenna: The four holidays are wonderful experiences to teach kids how other people celebrate their holidays. We’re helping people understand others better.
WHAT MAKES ROC HOLIDAY VILLAGE DIFFERENT FROM OTHER SEASONAL ACTIVITIES?
Kelli: Roc Holiday Village is truly a magical place to be during the holiday season.
Unlike other holiday events, Roc Holiday Village offers a variety of activities that are completely free of charge. You can enjoy ice skating, take pictures with Santa, arcade games, crafts for kids, live music, and holiday celebrations
Whether you're an outdoor enthusiast or prefer to stay cozy indoors, Roc Holiday Village has something for everyone. You can skate on the outdoor rink, enjoy delicious food from local vendors, shop for unique gifts, or relax inside the heated tent with live music.
Jenna: The village is designed to look like a scene from a holiday movie, complete with twinkling lights, cozy fire pits, and festive decorations. You'll feel like you've stepped into a winter wonderland as soon as you arrive.
Roc Holiday Village is a great opportunity to support local businesses and artisans. You can shop for handmade gifts, sample local cuisine, and enjoy live music from Rochester-based artists.
Whether you're looking for a fun date night or a family outing, Roc Holiday Village is the perfect destination. Kids will love meeting Santa and skating on the outdoor rink, while adults can enjoy a drink at the bar or browse the artisan market.
Overall, Roc Holiday Village is a must-visit destination during the holiday season. With its festive atmosphere, free activities, and support for local businesses, it's the perfect way to get into the holiday spirit while enjoying all that Rochester has to offer.
WHAT DOES THE VILLAGE MEAN TO YOU BOTH, PERSONALLY?
Kelli: It is a dream come true! And an amazing gift that we’re able to work on something the community has embraced and loves. I couldn’t have imagined how fun this would be to create, build and make real. How fun it is to see our friends, families and the community out there enjoying this. It’s really special to say we built a place where people can come and create family memories.
Jenna: It means everything. We’ve poured our hearts into this and sacrificed time with our families. This is what we hope our stamp is going to be on the community. I love Rochester and I love doing events in Rochester. It is such a blessing to be a part of this and have the community’s support. There’s no better feeling in the world!
LASTLY, WHAT DO VISITORS NEED TO KNOW BEFORE THEY ATTEND?
Jenna: Come dressed for the weather with a smile! It’s important for us to acknowledge the incredible support we’ve had from day one from the City of Rochester and Five Star Bank. There would not be a Village if they didn’t believe in an idea on a piece of paper. Wegmans also came in with the brilliant idea of free ice skating and skate rentals. We’re so thankful for them, as well as all of the new partners this year.
A full list of sponsors and partners is available at: rocholidayvillage.com/sponsors/.
Roc Holiday Village runs from December 1-23 and is closed on Mondays and Tuesdays. It’s recommended to visit the Roc Holiday Village website for additional details, including parking info, events, a map, as well as any changes or closures due to the weather.