All that's good - and all that's Grinchy - about the holiday season will be marching on Water Street Saturday, when the Wilmington Chamber of Commerce holds its Winter Wonderland Lighted Christmas parade and tree lighting.
The Chamber is celebrating the 14th annual event with costumed characters, caroling, free children's activities, dance performances and the most magical part of the holidays, visits with Santa. This year's theme is A Dr. Seuss Christmas, and there's sure to be a Grinch among the lighted floats and marching bands - maybe even among the kids scampering for candy, something you'd expect from someone whose heart is two sizes too small.
The revelry begins Nov. 24, the Saturday after Thanksgiving. Downtown businesses will be welcoming shoppers all day, and are extending their hours into the evening. Sales and specials will make it possible to find unique gifts with local flavor at affordable prices. Shoppers needn't travel, or fight through crowds, to find a thoughtful present for that special someone.
North Water Street will be closed to traffic from Baltimore Street to Van Buren. Streets and alleys leading to North Water Street will also be closed.
Season of giving
The parade is the highlight of a weekend devoted to giving thanks, and sharing with those who are less fortunate. This week volunteers distributed contribution boxes for the Chamber's Elf Contest, which benefits the Christian Help Association (CHA). CHA provides holiday meals to struggling families, and ensures each child in those families received gifts for Christmas.
Each penny dropped in an elf box is a vote for the elf contestant or contestants pictured on the front. Residents are encouraged to vote for their favorite, and vote often. One hundred percent of the proceeds from the Elf Contest are given to the CHA for its holiday endeavor on behalf of the community's less fortunate.
Before the parade
There's plenty to do Saturday before the parade - especially shopping. The Trinity Knot is holding a Christmas open house Friday through Sunday. The first 25 customers each day receive a free gift, and those who bring in the coupon from this week's Prairie Shopper or Free Press Advocate will receive a free Cadbury candy bar. Trinity Knot has a gigantic selection of great gifts, and is celebrating the grand opening of an additional 2,000 square feet of retail space.
Angelo's Ben Franklin is offering an incredible 25 percent off of everything in the store except Carhartts and Red Wing boots - that means home decor, craft items and toys are priced to sell. The store is open until 8 p.m. Saturday.
Milltown Market on North Kankakee Street continues its holiday tradition with its annual Christmas Show Friday through Sunday from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Milltown has 100 antique vendors under one roof.
Pick up a copy of The Free Press Advocate to get your list of "suspect" employees from Wilmington area businesses for the Dancing Christmas Tree contest. Watch for the dancing Christmas tree in the parade, then complete an entry form at one of the sponsoring businesses, making your best guess on who was under that crazy costume. (If you can't be there for the parade, check for a video at www.wilmingtonilchamber.org.)
Winners will be selected from the entries received. Participants have a chance to win a Nook tablet donated by the Wilmington Public Library District, or a share of a total of $500 in gift certificates. Additional details appear elsewhere in this edition.
The Mar Theater hold a special holiday matinee. The doors will open at 2:30 p.m. for a 3 p.m. showing of a Christmas classic, which puts movie viewers in the area of the downtown just in time for the parade. Admission will be $1 and a non-perishable food item for Kuzma Care Cottage and the Christian Help Association, or $2 without a food donation.
The big event
The parade will start promptly at 5 p.m. at Wilmington Middle School and travel on Ryan to Water Street to the post office. It is the first official appearance of the season for that jolly old elf, the giver of gifts, Santa Claus. Santa will make his entrance amidst the twinkling lights, sleigh bells and cheerful strains of holiday music.
This year's parade pays tribute to the works of Theodore Seuss Geisel - Dr. Seuss - and features characters in his children's books. The theme also celebrates the Wilmington Community Theatre troupe's Dec. 6 through 9 performances of Seussical the Musical. The cast will perform its favorite song and dance routines from the upcoming musical.
The Chamber's 2012 Business Person of the Year, Linnea Nelson, the manager at Berkot's Super Foods in Wilmington, will serve as the parade grand marshal and light the community Christmas tree. In addition, the Wilmington Public Library District held a children's coloring contest leading up to Thanksgiving week, and the winner, 7-year-old Olivia Hansen, will have the privilege of riding with Santa in the Tall Oaks Farm carriage during the parade.
After the parade
Following the parade, activities will take place on North Water Street, including the community tree lighting at approximately 5:30 p.m. in Claire's Corner by the Business Person of the Year. To get everyone into the spirit of the season, the Wilmington High School Show Cats will sing carols in Claire's park from the end of the parade until the tree lighting.
After the Christmas tree is lit, children are invited to have a hot dog (courtesy of Bill Welch's catering) and sip cider at Jasmine's, 207 N. Water St., and snack on popcorn (122 N. Water St.) courtesy of Whitmore Ace Hardware, and hot chocolate (118 N. Water) courtesy of the First Christian Church. (Serving begins after the tree lighting, and continues while supplies last.)
Santa will begin his visits with children at approximately 5:30 as well. Santa's house will be parked in the 200 block of North Water Street.
After the tree lighting, the award winning Diamond Dancers of Wilmington's Finale Studio will begin their performances across from the Santa house.
Downtown's events are expected to end around 7 p.m., when Santa must be off to visit with good girls and boys in other parts of the world. However, the community's other organizations continue the celebration. With assistance from the Wilmington Hgh School Interact Club and National Honor Society members, the path from the walkbridge at Jackson Street to the North Island Park will be lit with as many as 1,000 luminaries.
The soft lights will bring celebrants to the Lions Club's second annual Island Christmas display, a series of holiday characters and scenes celebrating the season. The display will be open to the public from 6 to 9 p.m. until Jan. 1. There is no charge to enjoy the show, but the club does accept donations for the local food pantry, the Kuzma Care Cottage.
This year, following the opening night display, residents will be able to drive through the park to see the display.