‘It’s A Wonderful Life’ event celebrates holidays in Lake Bluff

By Gregory Harutunian For Chronicle Media

The day-long Dec. 7 “It’s A wonderful Life” celebration is capped by the lighting of the Village Green gazebo, with carolers. (Photo courtesy of the Lake Bluff/Lake Forest Chamber of Commerce)

The 125-year-old Village of Lake Bluff is known for keeping traditions and an old-time atmosphere, from its perch on an outcrop overlooking Lake Michigan to its open-space Village Green.

The warmer months offer a weekly farmer’s market, Sunday concerts at the gazebo on the green, and downtown block parties representing the small-town feel befitting of a population totaling around 5,000 people.

That “espirit de corps” carries right along into the year-end holiday season, as the Lake Bluff/Lake Forest Chamber of Commerce, the downtown merchants, and the village join together to celebrate the season … the old-fashioned way. “It’s A Wonderful Life,” an event now in its 10th year, brings holiday-themed fun all day Dec. 7, capped by Santa Claus flipping the switch to light the village tree.

“In many respects, Lake Bluff is a throwback in time … a Village Green, adjacent to a charming downtown, one elementary and middle school that all kids attend together, and nonstop community activities and events throughout the year,” said Joanna Rolek, executive director of the Lake Bluff/Lake Forest Chamber of Commerce. “It was in the spirit of this, that the Chamber, the village and the downtown merchants launched a day of old-fashioned holiday celebration, entitled, ‘It’s a Wonderful Life.’”

“There are open carriage rides, store owners provide seasonal hospitality, the history museum and library have programming, and the day ends with the lighting of the Village Green for the holidays,” she said. “The museum also hosts holiday home tours and the activities through town are on a Saturday, and the Christmas home tour is on a Sunday. So now the event is really a whole weekend, and a celebration of good old-fashioned fun.”

The Dec. 7 activities include a Library Open House with Storytime, Crafts & Treats with the Library Elves (11 a.m.-1 p.m.), Carriage rides, sponsored by the Lake Forest Bank and Trust (1-4 p.m.), visiting with Santa Claus at the Lake Bluff History Museum (1-4 p.m.), and complimentary hot cocoa to stay warm at Be Market, located at 24 E. Scranton Avenue. At 5 p.m., the gazebo tree-lighting ceremony takes place with carols, sung by The Buckthorns.

The Christmas Home Tour gives people a peek into the homes decked out in holiday finery. (Photo courtesy of the Lake Bluff History Museum)

“Some of my favorite personal memories are images of folks enjoying the horse and carriage rides, visiting with Santa, the live reindeer that have periodically visited over the years and, of course, the ‘oohs’ and ‘aahs’ with the caroling, and lights being switched on,” said Rolek. “The carriage rides have been a wonderful addition to the event. It’s a wonderful way to run into friends and neighbors with their families. The chamber helps facilitate the event and promote it on behalf of the participating entities such as the businesses, library, museum, and others.”

The Lake Bluff History Museum Christmas Home Tour takes place Dec. 8, from 11 a.m.-4 p.m., and gives a chance to see “local homes decked out in their holiday finery.” They include a stone gatehouse built in 1925, a 1905 Queen Anne home commissioned by John Murdoch, who went on to found RKO Studios, and a 1955 farmhouse with a unique interior and rooms vaunting out from a circular atrium.

A bird perches on a branch at a farmhouse. (Photo courtesy of the Lake Bluff History Museum)

“This home tour is one of things makes Lake Bluff Lake Bluff, it’s a charming town, very friendly and warm,” said Adrienne Fawcett, the museum’s communication officer. “People come from all over to get a peek inside our dressed-up homes. Some of the decorations are done by the homeowners themselves, and others are working with local interior designers. The tour will also include two boutiques in historic homes.”

The museum is located at 127 E. Scranton Avenue, and tickets for the tour are $50, and can be purchased online at: lakebluffhistory.org/events. Funds raised from the tour support the museum’s efforts to digitize its collection and mount new exhibits each year.