Recreation & Destinations

Special Holiday Traditions in Geneva

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Each year, roughly 20,000 people flock to Geneva for the annual Christmas Walk and House Tour. Find out what makes this holiday tradition such a special homecoming for our region.

The staff at Graham’s Fine Chocolate, in downtown Geneva, makes and presents the first candy cane of the season to the mayor during the popular and family-friendly Geneva Christmas Walk on Dec. 1.

Christmas is a time to celebrate traditions in Geneva.

For nearly five decades, this city has joined its Swedish heritage with its small-town charm during the annual Christmas Walk and House Tour, scheduled this year for Dec. 1 and Dec. 2. Held every year on the first weekend in December, the event draws roughly 20,000 people to this charming downtown.

“It’s the evening that Geneva kicks off Christmas and celebrates its Christmas heritage,” says Laura Rush, communications manager for the Geneva Chamber of Commerce, which organizes the event. “It’s a fun community festival, and the crowds get bigger and bigger every year. People definitely look forward to it.”

This popular and family-friendly event offers visitors a very merry Friday evening that’s full of hometown traditions. The evening begins with Graham’s Fine Chocolate making and presenting the first candy cane of the season to the mayor, followed by the arrival of Santa Lucia, the Swedish symbol of the season, who offers Swedish cookies to children.

Crowds admire the lighting of the Great Tree on the Kane County Courthouse lawn, and children wait in anticipation as Santa Claus arrives on a horse-drawn carriage along with a police escort. Santa and Mrs. Claus then open their gingerbread home for visits with excited children.

“He has his own house in Geneva, and he’ll be in there until Dec. 23,” Rush says. “He’ll be welcoming children and listening to their Christmas wishes.”

Along with the twinkling lights that line the streets, chestnuts are roasting over open fires and carolers are filling the night air with seasonal favorites. In addition, dazzling window displays brimming with gift ideas invite shoppers to come inside as merchants serve traditional holiday refreshments.

Guests can also enjoy the Geneva Christmas House Tour, which features five lovely, exquisite Geneva homes decked out in holiday splendor by local decorators. These homes, which are filled with holiday decorations, will be open to visitors for self-guided tours Dec. 1 from 11 a.m. to 8 p.m. and Dec. 2 from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m.

Aglow with holiday spirit and charm, these cozy dwellings are sure to inspire ideas for decorating and entertaining.

“It’s fun to do with your family, and I think it’s one of the best house tours in the area,” Rush says. “Our decorators do a fabulous job, and the homeowners are so generous because they open their homes for it.”

If you attend the house tour, plan to drive to most locations. This year’s tour includes residences located all over Geneva.

“You won’t be able to walk to all of the homes,” Rush says. “You’ll have to drive to the homes, park and walk, because they’re spread out.”

Because of the amount of people, Geneva will be pretty busy that weekend, Rush says. It could be a challenge to get a meal or a place to stay, if you’re coming from out of town.

“It’s probably the busiest weekend and restaurant rush of the year,” she says.

The amount of people who arrive in Geneva is no surprise to Rush. It’s also no surprise to see many faces return each year.

“This is a historical town and even,and we do things well,” she says. “People know when they come, they’ll experience a great, family-friendly event.”

Tickets for the house tour are $35 each and include a traditional holiday tea at the First Congregational Church, 327 Hamilton St. on Dec. 1 from 10:30 a.m. to 6 p.m. and Dec. 2 from 10:30 a.m. to 4 p.m. Many other events offer free admission.

Hometown Holiday Festivals

This holiday season, check out a few family-friendly activities that are sure to bring out your Christmas spirit and help your family to create moments to remember. Some events last only one day, while others last most of the season.

Illumination: Tree Lights at The Morton Arboretum (Lisle)
Nov. 17-Jan. 1, 4:30-9:30 p.m. This annual, dazzling display transforms a Chicago-area wintertime walk in the woods into a colorful, inspiring experience like no other. Closed on Mondays, except for Jan. 1. It’s also closed on Thanksgiving, Christmas Eve and Christmas Day. Morton Arboretum, 4100 Ill. Rt. 53, Lisle, (630) 968-0074, mortonarb.org.

Festival of Lights Holiday Parade (Crystal Lake)
Nov. 24, 7 p.m. Decorated floats, marchers, music and Santa’s arrival. More than 50 parade entries in this lighted nighttime parade. The evening is filled with lights, music, pageantry and a little holiday magic. Downtown Crystal Lake. Info: (815) 479-0835, downtowncl.org.

Aurora Festival of Lights (Aurora)
Nov. 24-Dec. 26, Sun.-Thu. 5-9 p.m., Fri.-Sat. to 10 p.m. Witness more than 200 displays at the largest outdoor holiday light display in northern Illinois. Phillips Park, 1000 Ray Moses Dr., Aurora, (630) 408-5381, auorafestivaloflights.com.

Santa Cruise (Lake Geneva)
Nov. 24-Dec. 31, Wed.-Sun. Tours begin at 4:30 p.m. No tours Dec. 24-25. Surround yourself with twinkling lights as you tour displays along the Geneva Lake shoreline. Several activities will keep the kids engaged. Departs from Gage Marine, 1 Liechty Dr., Williams Bay, Wis., (262) 248-6206, CruiseLakeGeneva.com.

Lighting of the Square (Woodstock)
Nov. 24, 5-9 p.m. Tree lighting, late-night shopping and dining, and a visit from Santa. Caroling before and after. Woodstock Square. Info: (815) 338-4300, woodstock-il.org.

Celebration of Lights (Batavia)
Nov. 26, 4 p.m. Hayrides, hot food and drinks, community sing-along, photos with Santa, story hour and ceremonial tree lighting. Batavia Riverwalk and Peg Bond Pavilion, 151 N. Island Ave., Batavia. Info: (630) 879-5235, bataviaparks.org.

Walk With Santa (Sycamore)
Dec. 1, 6 p.m. Parade with Santa, Mrs. Claus and elves through downtown Sycamore to the courthouse lawn, where Santa will light the holiday tree and listen to children’s wish lists. Begins at State Street Theater, Downtown Sycamore. Info: discoversycamore.com.

Santa’s Arrival & Tree Lighting (Barrington)
Dec. 2, 10 a.m.-6:30 p.m. Take photos with Santa and Mrs. Claus, meet giant gingerbread people, ride carriages and trolleys, and watch village tree lighting. Events are also at Foundry Shopping Center, Ice House Mall, Shops on Lageschulte, and Village Center. Info: (847) 304-3400, enjoybarrington.com.

Window Wonderland (Elgin)
Dec. 2, 2-6 p.m. Enjoy Elgin’s official tree lighting, get your picture taken with Santa, listen to holiday music and see live reindeer. Downtown Elgin. Info: (847) 488-1456, downtownelgin.com.

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