Other than in movies, I had never seen someone actually get down on one knee and propose marriage. So it was something of a surprise to witness two proposals in two days – and in both cases, I was so close, I was asked to take the first selfie of the happy couple.
But that’s the type of thing that can happen in Denver during the holidays. Always pretty, the Mile High City is especially gorgeous around Christmas. Maybe it’s the evergreens covered with snow, the smell of woodsmoke, the jingle of bells as a horse drawn carriage clatters by, or hearing the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band’s Colorado Christmas about eighteen times a day, no matter where you go.
Whatever it is, the Christmas magic is difficult to resist and these two couples fell under the spell. The first engagement took place at Larimer Square. This is the oldest street in the city, one time lined with saloons and brothels. It was a romantic woman named Dana Crawford who in 1969 saw the potential of these old Victorian brick and stone buildings. At a time where Denver was tearing down old buildings, she convinced a group to buy the whole block, steam clean the exteriors, add gas lamps and outdoor cafes, and fill the insides with chef-owned restaurants. It was a sensation in 1969, and it still is.
I’d had a couple beers at the nearby Christkindl Market, an authentic German Christmas market with wood stalls selling sausages and salmon, European scarves, glass globe ornaments, cookies, cheese and chocolate, and naturally, German beer. At twilight, I wandered down to Larimer to take a couple of pictures during the “magic hour” when the lights come on, the cafes are packed, and the old gas lamps are glowing.
I had just grabbed a shot when a young man came up, handed me his phone, and said “Would you mind taking a picture of us?” Of course! I took his phone and centered the couple in the frame, when an amazing thing happened. He got down on one knee, and proposed. I took a dozen pictures, realizing the importance this shot could have to them and possibly to their future unborn children.
It turned out, he had a professional photographer positioned to record it, but his girlfriend, unknowing, kept walking, and desperate to get her back to the spot, he had the inspiration to give me his phone and pretend that it was my photo of them that he wanted. I may have neglected to mention, that in addition to having had a few beers, I was wearing a Santa hat.
It was all very nice, but I probably would have forgotten it, if damn near the exact same thing had not happened the next night. From Denver’s oldest Victorian Christmas destination, the next night I went to the newest – the Mile High Tree. At 110-feet, this was the tallest digital tree in North America, as well as the tallest art installation in Denver’s history. New in 2019, the tree was 39 feet in diameter and basically an enormous outdoor rock concert of lights and holiday music. You could go inside the tree, lay down in the middle and watch as lights spiraled and danced, all choreographed to music. In a word, it was amazing.
Now Denver was the first city in the world to legalize recreational marijuana, and while it’s illegal to consume it outside on the street, it’s perfectly fine to walk around after having consumed it. So I was laying down in the middle of the Mile High Tree, enjoying the lights cascading upwards, when a second young man said, as if in a dream, “Sir, would you mind taking a photo of us?” And it happened again! This guy had no plan. I was the official and only photographer. But there he was, on his knee, his girlfriend yelling, “Yes, Yes Yes!!!” above the music as I snapped away.
The great thing is that even in the pandemic, Denver will be just as romantic in 2020. Larimer Square closed the street to cars and made it one huge outdoor café with heat lamps, music and lights. The Mile High Tree is coming back and will be just as spectacular. Christkindl is moving to Civic Center Park, where there will be more room to socially distance, and where the backdrop will be the wildly decorated City & County Building covered with 20,000 floodlights and ringing bells. So even with COVID and masks, I’m planning to dust off my Santa hat and see how engaging Christmas in Denver can be.