Lights, Santa and a bounty of wonder

Dave Fidlin for Chronicle Media
Kids will be able to share their wish lists with Santa once again at the village of Morton’s Holidazzle. (Photo courtesy of village of Morton)

Kids will be able to share their wish lists with Santa once again at the village of Morton’s Holidazzle. (Photo courtesy of village of Morton)

Holiday events planned across Tazewell County this season

It’s been a mainstay for more than three decades and has been credited with putting East Peoria — and, for that matter, Tazewell County — on the map.

Since 1984, the city’s Festival of Lights celebration has lit up the hearts and minds of children young and old each holiday season. As the annual pastime begins its fourth decade of existence, this year’s program is sure to feature a mix of the expected and a few added twists.

In a vein similar to Macy’s Thanksgiving Day parade in New York City, East Peoria’s Festival Lights requires a significant amount of logistics that calls for a year-round planning effort between the scores of volunteers that have joined the effort as the program has evolved.

Jill Peterson, the city of East Peoria’s public relations coordinator, said this year’s Festival of Lights begins Saturday, Nov. 21. As has been the case in prior years, a parade, scheduled for 5:45 p.m., will kick off the season-long display.

As the countdown draws progressively closer, Peterson said the finishing touches are being put in place, including routine testing of the train engines that serve as the canvas for the extensive light display.

As the Festival of Lights has evolved, so too have the festivities surrounding the extravaganza. One of the additions over time has been a pageant that serves as a prelude to the actual light display. This year’s queen will soon be announced.

Elsewhere in Tazewell County, the village of Morton’s Holidazzle celebration — considered the official ushering in of the holiday season — is already underway.

Holidazzle is the overarching name for all things festive in the community, including special merchant sales, the official Christmas tree lighting, a chili supper and an official candle light stroll down Main Street. Throughout Holidazzle, Santa Claus makes a variety of appearances.

The first weekend in December will be a busy, festive time in Morton with a chili supper, sponsored by the Morton Community United Church of Christ, and the official tree lighting.

Susan Pyles, Morton’s director of tourism, said there are a variety of attractions that are sure to evoke festive feelings, though she noted the tree lighting ceremony — scheduled for 7 p.m. Friday, Dec. 4 — is a particular crowd-pleaser.

“MTA (Morton Tourism Association) volunteers have been instrumental in the decorating of the tree with the help of Jay Winkel and One Source Equipment Rental,” Pyles said. “The public is invited to attend (the lighting) and then stroll the downtown area until 9 p.m. for shopping, dining and visiting with old friends.”

In Pekin, the annual Christmas on Court program — which includes a visit with Santa Claus, a candlelight luminary walk and carriage rides — serves as the city’s official kick-off of the holiday season on Friday, Dec. 4.

Children also will have an opportunity to visit Pekin’s Santa House throughout December on Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays.   

Another Pekin tradition, Winter Wonderland, returns for its 29th year. Opening ceremonies for the musical extravaganza kick off at 2 p.m. Sunday, Nov. 29, with a performance by the Salvation Army Band.

Additional performances under the Winter Wonderland banner take place through Saturday, Dec. 12.

–Lights, Santa and a bounty of wonder–

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