Kane County History: Geneva's Downtown Christmas Celebration Has Always Been Spectacular

Kane County History: Geneva’s Downtown Christmas Celebration Has Always Been Spectacular

Geneva’s first downtown Christmas celebration occurred on Christmas Eve in 1916.

Called “a very delightful and happy occasion” by the Geneva Republican newspaper, the event was supposed to begin at 5 p.m. with a tree lighting. Due to the mass of people (an estimated 1,500 to 2,000) congregating at the school yard (at the corner of South Third and James Streets), the lighting was delayed until 6:45 p.m.

To entertain those arriving, several men, accompanied by a small orchestra, began playing Christmas carols from the upper room of the school, with the melodies carrying throughout the city. Many homes placed lit candles in their windows as way to take part in the festivities.

The newspaper reported, “Nearly all of Geneva attended the celebration. We believe it will remain as an annual Christmas time event from year to year.”

Throughout the years, Geneva’s Christmas tree was displayed at several other places, including State and Third streets, and then State and Fourth streets.

In 1935, Christmas trees were placed in front of stores. Santa Claus and his reindeer were placed on the northeast corner of the courthouse lawn in 1949. He arrived by helicopter in Wheeler Park in 1952, and an entire Santa’s workshop was built on the courthouse lawn.

A Christmas parade was held annually in the 1950s, and the Chamber of Commerce and city held outdoor lighting contests.

In the 1960s, the tree and Santa’s house were moved to the corner of Second Street and State Street and sponsored by the First National Bank of Geneva, their location at that time. Santa arrived via a Geneva fire truck with sirens and flashing lights.

The name “Christmas Walk” is first referenced in 1963, and the tree moved back to Fourth and State streets to celebrate the new street lights in the business district.

In the 1970s, Santa’s house found its long-term home on the courthouse lawn, and over the years, several organizations assisted with building his house.

This year’s tree lighting is scheduled for Friday, Dec. 3, but the Geneva History Museum starts celebrating early, on Nov. 22 with our annual Geneva Giving Trees display.

Twenty local nonprofit organizations will decorate trees located inside and outside various downtown Geneva businesses. The public is invited to vote for their favorite Giving Tree in-person at the Geneva History Museum or by visiting www.GenevaHistoryMuseum.org.

Each vote costs $1, with online votes requiring a minimum bid of $5 (or 5 votes). The winning organization will keep 100% of the funds raised in support of their tree. Remaining organizations will split their winnings 50/50 with the museum.

The trees and voting will continue through Jan. 1, 2022 when the winning tree will be announced.

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