Celebrating the Season
10 great ways to get into the holiday spirit
The holidays can be a wonderful time of year, but sometimes with all the accompanying busyness, they pass by before we even have a chance to really enjoy them. With that in mind, the following is a quick “to-do” list of seasonal activities and simple pleasures to help you make the most of the holiday season.
1. Giving Thanks
It’s no coincidence and certainly more than appropriate that Thanksgiving comes in advance of Christmas. Prior to getting wrapped up in all the holiday hoopla and craziness, it more than makes sense to take time out to truly give thanks for our many blessings. And living in the western suburbs, we have no shortage of blessings.
So the first of our must-do holiday activities is to take full advantage of the extended Thanksgiving holiday and make a point to get together with family and friends, share a good meal, enjoy each others’ company, and be grateful.
2. Soak in the Holiday Music
From Christmas carols to Handel’s majestic Messiah, there is just something about holiday music that helps get you in the spirit of the season. In the past, lovers of traditional Christmas carols could turn to WLIT 93.9 radio in early November and get holiday music round the clock. Though the station was “rebranded” earlier this year to MY FM, due to popular demand — and higher ratings during past holiday seasons — the all-Christmas music format will continue this year.
For those who prefer to lift their own voices in song, a great event is the Annual Sing-Along Messiah at First United Methodist Church of Oak Park, this year set for 3:30 p.m. Sunday, Dec. 8th. The free event features a professional orchestra and soloists, the church’s historic Skinner organ, a harpsichord, and the voices of local singers. For more committed Messiah lovers, there are also the annual Do-It-Yourself Messiah performances Dec. 19 and 20 at Harris Theatre for Music and Dance in Chicago (cost $15), which typically draws thousands of chorus and audience members.
3. Take in the Holiday Lights
While all the downtowns will be lit up and many will hold their annual Christmas tree lighting ceremonies, the must-see new attraction this year will be Morton Arboretum’s new “Illumination” exhibition. Combining cutting-edge light technology with the wooded landscape of the Arboretum, the interactive exhibit will not be your typical holiday lights show. “Illumination” will take visitors on a mile-long, paved walking trail with various light “experiences” — from shadow lanterns, to a tinsel colonnade, to crystal chandeliers — around every turn. The exhibition will be open from 4:30 to 8:30 p.m. Nov. 22 through Jan. 4 (except Nov. 28 and Dec., 2, 9, 16, 24 and 25). Cost is $10 for children and $15 per adult.
Other great places to catch fun holiday light shows include the drive-through Holiday Festival of Lights at Phillips Park in Aurora, which runs from Nov. 29 through Dec. 26; Bolingbrook Promenade outdoor mall’s Symphony in Lights, with more than 250,000 lights synchronized to the holiday music of the Trans-Siberian Orchestra, which kicks off Nov. 16; and Brookfield Zoo’s Holiday Magic, featuring more than a million twinkling lights as well as new laser and video lights shows. The zoo’s lights will be on display Saturdays and Sundays from 4 to 9 p.m. starting Nov. 30, and all evenings between Christmas and New Year’s.
Of course, no holiday season would be complete without a quick trip downtown to see the lights on Michigan Avenue and the city’s Christmas tree at Daley Plaza.
4. Holiday Housewalks
Another great way to celebrate the beauty of the season is to take a tour of distinctive area homes decked out in their holiday finest. The most well-known of several local holiday housewalks is the Naperville Garden Club’s annual Cup of Cheer, now in its 53rd year. This year’s walk, holiday market and tea is set for Friday, Dec. 6 from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. and will feature tours of four homes, decorated by garden club members.
The annual Geneva House Tour runs in conjunction with the downtown Christmas Walk on Friday, Dec. 6 and continues on Saturday, Dec. 7. Participants will get an inside look at five Geneva-area homes and finish with tea at the Congregational Church in Geneva.
That same weekend is the 15th Annual Oak Park River Forest Infant Welfare Society Holiday Housewalk and Market, featuring five festive homes decorated for the holidays. Tour hours are from 5 to 9 p.m. on Friday, Dec. 6 and from 1 to 5 p.m., Saturday, Dec. 7. Proceeds benefit the IWS Children’s Clinic, which provides medical and dental care to children whose families cannot afford the costs of private care. The event also includes a special Holiday Market, featuring more than 30 artisan vendors with “one-of-a-kind” gifts.
5. Shop, Shop, Shop
In keeping with the adage that it truly is better to give than receive, there are gifts to be bought for friends and family. And in the western suburbs, there is an abundance of wonderful shopping venues, from quaint but bustling downtowns to sprawling indoor and outdoor malls. Most of these venues will be formally kicking off the shopping season in late November or early December.
Oakbrook Center, for example, will be holding a special event on Nov. 22, with the traditional arrival of Santa in conjunction with the formal unveiling of the completion of the mall’s multi-year renovation. That same evening, Stratford Square will debut its new “Magical Holiday Forest” in its Center Court. The following weekend, Geneva Commons will hold its “Light up the Night” holiday kickoff event on Friday, Nov. 29 at 5:30 p.m. and Yorktown Center will be featuring special “Pet Nights with Santa” on Dec. 8 and 15.
Local downtown shopping districts will be buzzing with activity as well, from Glen Ellyn’s Holiday Walk and Wheaton’s Lighted Holiday Parade, both on Nov. 29; to St. Charles’ Holiday Homecoming celebration Nov. 29 and 30; and Downers Grove’s Gingerbread Festival, Nov. 29 through Dec. 1. The following weekend, other downtowns roll out a holiday welcome including annual Christmas walks in Geneva, Hinsdale and Clarendon Hills on Dec. 6, and in La Grange Dec. 7, which is also the date of West Chicago’s Frosty Fest.
6. Take in a Performance of the Nutcracker
The whimsical tale of young Clara and her magical journey amidst waltzing flowers, giant mice, and the Sugar Plum fairy — all set to Tchaikovsky’s enchanting score — is a holiday classic for the entire family. Among local area performances is the acclaimed Salt Creek Ballet’s staging of “The Nutcracker,” featuring principal dancers from the Colorado Ballet. Shows are slated for Nov. 24 and 25 at the Hinsdale Central High School Auditorium in Hinsdale.
Other local Nutcracker performances include Von Heidecke’s Chicago Festival Ballet Dec. 1 at the Rialto Square; the Moscow Ballet at the Rosemont Theatre on Dec. 8; and, of course, the annual Joffrey Ballet production Dec. 6 through 28 at the Auditorium Theatre in Chicago.
7. Learn a Lesson from Scrooge
For a dramatic reminder of the true meaning of Christmas, there is nothing better than taking in a production of “A Christmas Carol.” Local productions of the Charles Dickens’ classic include a touring show at the Paramount Theatre from Dec. 7 through 9, and Drury Lane’s annual production from Nov. 21 though Dec. 21, the latter of which is especially designed for younger audiences.
But the grandaddy of “Christmas Carol” shows is the Goodman Theatre’s annual production in Chicago. Now in its 36th year, the show runs from Nov. 16 through Dec. 28.
8. Take a Winter Carriage or Sleigh Ride
Many of the area downtowns are offering free horse-drawn carriage rides during the holiday season, but to get away and enjoy the natural beauty of the season, head out to the Danada Equestrian Center in Wheaton. Daily from noon to 2 p.m. from Dec. 26 through 30, and then on Sundays from noon to 3 p.m. in January and February, two of the center’s draft horses will pull a sleigh on runners — when snow is four inches or deeper — or a hay wagon on wheels through woods and prairies. Visitors will learn about the historic surroundings along the way. Rides are about 15 minutes long and depart every 20 minutes. A warming fire keeps visitors toasty as they wait for their trip. Groups of 15 or more can reserve private rides, which take place at times other than the scheduled rides for the public.
9. Give of Your Time and/or Resources
The holidays are also a time to give back to your community and to help those in need. As any non-profit organization leader will freely acknowledge, their budgets often depend heavily on the extra donations that come in during November and December (see ‘Tis the Giving Season on page 30). Many organizations are also looking for volunteers to support the services they offer.
Often among those that are most forgotten during the holidays are the elderly. Among local organizations seeking volunteers is the DuPage Senior Citizen’s Council, which is looking for volunteer drivers in Wheaton, Lombard and Bloomingdale for its Meals on Wheels program. Similarly, Metropolitan Family Services of DuPage is actively looking for in-home senior respite volunteers to provide weekly visits — social only, no medical or personal care is required. The program helps keep more seniors in their homes while affording breaks to their family caregivers, who often cannot leave their loved ones home alone, even for brief periods.
There are, of course, plenty of other places to contribute. To find the right match for your interests, one resource worth checking is Giving DuPage, which helps connect donors and volunteers with opportunities to get involved in local service organizations.
10. Seek Spiritual Renewal
Yes, the holidays can be hectic. But if you can manage to carve out a little time for reflection amidst the hustle and bustle, it can also be a wonderful time for spiritual renewal. For Christians, the “reason for the season” is obviously the birth of Christ. And those of the Jewish faith will be celebrating Hanukkah from Nov. 27 through Dec. 5. But whatever your religion or beliefs, the holidays can be made richer and more meaningful with time also spent considering the spiritual realm of life.Edit Module