Celebrating the holidays each year centers on traditions — family gatherings, festive shopping and local events help make the time of year so special.
The holiday season this year will be far different than years prior due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. Stores are partially closed as restrictions regularly change, health departments are recommending that people avoid interacting with extended family, and regularly held local holiday events are being canceled or modified.
As the holidays near, The Record talked to village officials from three communities in its coverage area to see how local municipalities are handling the season.
In a typical year, the village of Wilmette would be hosting a parade, visit with Santa and tree-lighting ceremony all in one fun-filled Saturday to kick off the holiday season and get residents in a festive spirit.
But due to the pandemic, and limits on the amount of people that can be gathered in one place, that event has been shut down this year.
COVID-19 is not the only thing factor that impacted the village’s plans to not hold the tree-lighting event, though.
“Our downtown reconstruction project makes it a little bit difficult to host that,” Wilmette Village Manager Michael Braiman told The Record.
Wilmette’s Downtown Streetscape Plan is improving its roadways, sidewalks, parkways and open spaces along Wilmette and Central avenues. Construction is expected to go through June 2021, according to the village.
Braiman also added that the Village is in the process of replacing its holiday tree, which will be chosen from a tree farm in future months.
“The tree is currently removed and we’ll have a new tree next year that we’ll unveil,” Braiman said.
The decision to cancel the event was made “a month or so ago,” according to Braiman. At the time of decision-making, Illinois had a limit of 50 people per gathering. As of Nov. 17, the state now has a limit of 10 people per gathering.
“We didn’t see the situation getting better by the time of the holidays,” Braiman said. “It’s important for us, as the Village, to set the example and make sure our events and our communications are abiding by the Governor’s directives.”
The Village isn’t completely setting the holidays aside, though. Braiman said they are partnering with the Wilmette-Kenilworth Chamber of Commerce on a business storefront decorating contest.
“It will hopefully be a fun way for businesses to participate and draw some attention to their businesses, and allow residents to get out and see something in smaller groups,” Braiman said.
It’s obvious when the holiday season begins in Glencoe. It’s when all of the trees, after losing their autumn luster, become colorful yet again — but with lights.
Glencoe traditionally hosts its annual Light the Lights event, which the Village has been doing “for decades,” according to Village Manager Phil Kiraly.
“All of the trees in our downtown are set ablaze all at the same time the Friday after Thanksgiving,” Kiraly said of one of the North Shore’s signature holiday events.
The event has been especially important for Glencoe over the past few years, as the 2018 ceremony marked the kickoff for the Village’s sesquicentennial celebration, and its 2019 event closed out the celebratory 150th anniversary of Glencoe’s inception.
This year, the gathering has been canceled due to COVID-19, which Kiraly announced at a Village Board meeting in October.
But the village will still be lit up.
Kiraly said that rather than hosting an event where crowds can gather, the lights will be turned on without a ceremony, so residents and visitors can still admire the spectacle while stepping into the downtown area.
“It does break our heart a bit because it is such a fun event,” Kiraly said.
Similar to neighboring villages, Kiraly encouraged residents to stop by the Village’s small businesses as part of Small Business Saturday on Nov. 28, as well as throughout the holiday shopping season and year-round.
“People may be doing a lot more shopping from their couch this year, but many of our businesses are going to try to attract shoppers in with discounts and deals,” Kiraly said. “Our stores are doing a good job at managing through capacity issues with respect to how many people can be in the stores at each time. We’ve really seen our community step up this year and be supportive of the small businesses that really define Glencoe.”
Holiday celebrations in Winnetka won’t be the same this year compared to previous years, but that doesn’t mean there isn’t festive fun planned for locals.
The Village of Winnetka, the Winnetka Park District and the Winnetka-Northfield Chamber of Commerce typically come together to host a tree lighting ceremony with Santa visiting on a firetruck, and a holiday market with hot chocolate and cookies, according to Winnetka Communications Manager Josie Clark. The ceremony will still be happening this year on Friday, Dec. 4, albeit virtually, as the event will be live-streamed on the Village’s and the Park District’s Facebook pages.
Clark said the Village wants to coordinate with the community by having residents turn on their holiday lights and decorations at 5:45 p.m. While this is happening, the Village will be flying a drone through residential communities to capture the magic as the lights simultaneously turn on.
The Village’s Distinctly Winnetka text program will also be running in full force during the holiday season. The program sends promotions via text to residents who sign up for it and encourages shopping at local businesses.
“It’s more important to shop and dine local and do everything we can to support our local economy,” Clark said. “That’s where COVID is really hitting hard. I know that our community is not unique in that way, so we’re doing everything we can to promote everything that we know about.”
The Winnetka-Northfield Chamber of Commerce will also be hosting an open-air holiday market to help make the season special. The market will be held over two weekends, Nov. 28-29 and Dec. 5-6, in the south parking lot of the Winnetka Village Hall.
Additionally, the chamber will be hosting a Holiday Window Decorating Contest and winners can be voted on in person at stores or by scanning a QR code online. The winner will be announced Dec. 6.
That same day, the chamber will be hosting the 41st annual Red Invitation Sale, in which local stores will offer sales, gift wrapping and other festive activities.
Similar to Winnetka, Kenilworth will be live-streaming its tree lighting this year with no gathering at/around the tree, which usually is placed in the town fountain.
The Kenilworth Park District will stream the event live at 5 p.m. Dec. 5 on its Facebook page. Santa and carolers will join the park district and Kenilworth Club to continue the Kenilworth tradition.
Prior to the lighting, residents can celebrate Santa’s arrival as he gets a police-and-fire escort throughout the village. Everyone is encouraged to say hello — minding distance guidelines — as Santa is driven up and down Kenilworth streets.
Kenilworth is also promoting a virtual holiday market through Dec. 12.
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Erin is a freelance journalist based in the Chicago area. She most recently served as the editor of The Highland Park Landmark. Her work has also been featured in Chowhound, Choose Chicago, Eat This Not That, MSN and the Lake County News Sun.