Are you ready to come home for the holidays? In that magical time between the Thanksgiving turkey and the arrival of Santa Claus, our communities go all-out in welcoming this magical season.
Christmas is a time of gathering for families, friends and communities – and it’s likely we’ll do a lot more of it again this year. Cities and towns across the northwest suburbs are getting ready to bring people together for this season of magic. From community tree-lightings to parades and other events, these communities are ready to go all-out in welcoming the holidays.
Woodstock: A Dill-lightful Place
Woodstock is known as the filming location for the popular film “Groundhog Day,” but this city’s Christmas celebrations are widely recognized, too. In 2019 the city was named the Most Festive Christmas City in Illinois by travel website tripstodiscover.com.
“Woodstock is certainly a great place to be for the holidays,” says Danielle Gulli, president of the Woodstock Area Chamber of Commerce & Industry, a group that plays a prime role in the city’s annual festivities. “You can’t help but fall in love with Woodstock while you’re here.”
Woodstock launches its holiday season ahead of Thanksgiving with its Legend of the Pickle Scavenger Hunt, an apt event for the hometown of Claussen Pickle Co. During this scavenger hunt, which runs from Nov. 14 to Dec. 12, dozens of local businesses hide a glass pickle ornament in their stores for hunters to find. Those who locate these glass pickles can claim a pickle ornament craft of their own and qualify for a chance to win other prizes.
The real fun starts the day after Thanksgiving, on Nov. 26, when revelers celebrate the annual Lighting of the Square. Santa himself arrives at the town’s Historic Square in a vintage fire truck, just in time to set aglow the entire Square, along with a park at its center. Once the Square is lit, a local choir performs. Visitors are encouraged to check out the independent retailers and restaurants along the block – all while stopping at selfie sites for a quick picture.
The following day, Small Business Saturday, brings special deals at many local retailers. Then, on Sunday, Nov. 28, the annual Christmas Parade takes place, followed by Cookies and Churros with Santa and his reindeer.
Speaking of Santa, he plans to visit his hut until late December. This year, he’s available to visit by appointment.
Throughout December, visitors can enjoy the holiday tree displays at the Woodstock Opera House’s Tree Walk and the Holiday Lights contest, as local businesses decorate their windows on the Square.
The City plans to keep the lights on in the Square until … wait for it … Groundhog Day.
For more information, or to make an appointment to see Santa, check the Woodstock Area Chamber of Commerce and Industry website at woodstockilchamber.com.
Crystal Lake: Holiday Cheer on Parade
Downtown Crystal Lake lights up again this year with its traditional Festival of Lights Parade, scheduled to kick off from City Hall on Nov. 26 at 7 p.m.
“We’re very excited,” says Jen Martin, events coordinator for Downtown Crystal Lake. “Santa is very excited as well.”
Thousands of people line the parade route to watch the floats and help to light up the streets of downtown Crystal Lake. Santa and Mrs. Claus greet spectators from their float at the end of the parade.
“The city does a fantastic job of decorating the downtown,” says Martin. “It’s a nighttime parade, so we encourage lots of lights for our parade participants.”
If you miss Santa’s appearance at the parade, don’t fret. From Nov. 26 to Dec. 23, he’s taking up residence in his temporary porch at Brink Street Market, located at the corner of Williams and Brink streets.
From there, stroll down the block to Depot Park and explore Christmas Tree Lane.
“We have about 40 trees set up and decorated by businesses and different organizations within Crystal Lake,” says Martin. “Our whole Depot Park is lit up, and it’s just beautiful.”
The display remains until Jan. 1.
For more information, check out downtowncl.org.
St. Charles: Coming Home for the Holidays
The city’s Lighting of the Lights ceremony at 5 p.m. on Nov. 26 signifies that the holidays are officially underway in St. Charles. Visitors to the First Street Plaza, right by the Fox River, can take part in the countdown before downtown becomes aglow with lights. Santa will be on hand to say hello.
Like most other communities, St. Charles reworked and replanned many of last year’s Christmas events because of the pandemic. A new event from last year, the Holiday Tree Trail, was such a success that it returns this year.
The trail, which stretches along First Street and down the river walk, features 50 Christmas trees that are decorated by local organizations and businesses. People can cast their vote for the best-decorated tree and find out who won the award at the end of the weekend.
“It was a nice way to decorate the town,” says Amy Curione, events manager for the St. Charles Business Alliance, which organizes the event. “The trees will be up throughout the holiday season until the end of the year.”
Saturday, Nov. 27, brings more fun, starting with the Arcada Theatre’s free showing of “Frozen II” at 10 a.m. Then, as the sun sets on Small Business Saturday, the annual Electric Christmas Parade commences in grand style. It begins at 5:30 p.m. and stretches along Main Street from Sixth Street to Fourth Avenue. Expect to see bands and floats, as well as an appearance by Santa.
Afterward, he’ll take up residence in his house at the First Street Plaza, where children can visit every Saturday and Sunday, from 1 p.m. to 4 p.m. from Nov. 27 to Dec. 19. He will also be accepting letters during his stay.
“Our town is very festive,” says Curione. “It’s a wonderful place to visit during the season.”
For more information, check out the St. Charles Holiday Homecoming website at stc.holidayhomecoming.com.
Lake Zurich: Do You Believe in Miracles?
The village of Lake Zurich brings back its Miracle on Main Street this Dec. 4, from 3 p.m. to 6:30 p.m. In addition to the annual tree-lighting, visitors to downtown Lake Zurich’s Main Street corridor can enjoy photos with live reindeer, sleigh rides and vendors serving a wide variety of food and drink.
Leading up to the fun, the local Lions Club hosts a Holiday Tree and Wreath Fundraising Sale, starting Nov. 26. The Lions Club also hosts a Candy Cane Hunt during Miracle on Main Street.
Santa will, of course, be on hand, but kids who miss a chance to speak with him can always leave a letter in his mailbox.
“Santa’s mailbox is placed in our downtown Rotary Park,” says Bonnie Caputo, recreation director for the Village of Lake Zurich. “We’re accepting letters from Dec. 1 through Dec. 19. Every child gets a response from Santa.”
Couples who are looking for a place to take a romantic selfie might want to hit up the Mistletoe Moments area near the village Christmas tree, at the intersection of Old Rand Road and Main Street. New this year, families and local businesses can sponsor their own tree in Breezewald Park.
“Sponsors would be responsible for putting up the lights and the decor,” says Caputo. “But it would be up throughout the park, so people can take a stroll and enjoy.”
For more information, contact the Village of Lake Zurich Park and Recreation Department at (847) 438-5146.
Barrington: Elves off the Shelves
Prepare for a mischievous elf invasion. Following a theme of “Just Elfing Around Barrington,” artists from the Barrington Area Artists Association and Barrington High School are working with local merchants to create holiday window displays depicting scenes of elf-related mayhem. The program is organized by Barrington Area Chamber of Commerce.
“The holiday windows will offer a great family outing,” says Suzanne Corr, Chamber president/CEO. “Come shop, stroll and be merry.”
The event kicks off with a ribbon cutting ceremony on Cook Street, along with a performance by the Barrington High School Madrigals on Dec. 1 at 3:30 p.m. On Dec. 4, the Village hosts its annual Holiday Festival and Tree Lighting Ceremony in the Village Center from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m.
For more information, call (847) 381-2525 or visit barringtonchamber.com.
Rockford: A Stroll to Remember
One of northern Illinois’ most anticipated events of the season is Stroll on State, a nearly decade-long tradition in Rockford. Held annually on the Saturday following Thanksgiving, Stroll on State brings thousands of people downtown for a parade, fireworks, live music and, of course, a visit from Santa. The event draws thousands to Rockford’s downtown, where local shops and vendor booths offer refreshments and merchandise.
This year, instead of focusing on one giant tree in the heart of downtown, the tree-lighting ceremony will be divided into three separate events, using three separate trees. Tree lighting ceremonies will happen at 5 p.m. in Eddie Green Park, 6 p.m. in Davis Park and 7 p.m. at North Main and Mulberry streets.
The event unofficially kicks off with the Dasher Dash, a holiday-themed 5K Run/Walk through Rockford’s downtown district, starting at noon on Nov. 27.
Stroll on State begins officially with a parade at 2 p.m., and the fun goes until 9 p.m. At 8 p.m., a fireworks display launches from the Jefferson Street Bridge.
“We’re excited to get back into the swing of things and back into our downtown community to help benefit all of Rockford and the Rockford region,” says Dan Obert, marketing and communications manager for the Rockford Area Convention and Visitors Bureau, which organizes Stroll.
For more information, visit gorockford.com.