North Riverside is a village passionate about its annual traditions. From the chili cook-off — a spinoff of the old North Riverside Days — and mega Fourth of July fireworks to fan-favorite programs for youth campers and active seniors, North Riverside's Parks and Recreation Department ensures nearly round-the-clock fun for residents with a variety of interests.
However, one thing North Riverside never had was its own winter kickoff event.
On Wednesday, Nov. 29, that changed as the village hosted its inaugural tree lighting ceremony in front of the Village Commons, 2401 Des Plaines Ave.
More than 200 residents of all ages gathered at 6 p.m. for hot chocolate, cookies, popcorn and mingling as members of the Riverside-Brookfield High School jazz band played Christmas carols and other seasonal tunes.
"We're very excited to kick off this holiday season with you," said Mayor Hubert Hermanek Jr., who spoke to residents gathered at the event. "Like they say, we are a small community with a big heart. The holidays just make that heart bigger and warmer."
Following his speech, Hermanek led the audience in a 10-second countdown before flipping the switch and illuminating the blue spruce tree, planted earlier this year for this very purpose, in front of the Village Commons.
And, in true North Riverside fashion, a short fireworks display followed the tree lighting. The show was so intense, it alarmed some residents in neighboring villages. Hermanek said he received calls from officials in Forest Park's and as far away as Westchester.
But longtime North Riversiders, like Donna Landa and her adult daughter, Angelica, were happy to watch the fireworks at the first tree lighting.
"I like doing any Christmas activities to get in the spirit," Angelica Landa said.
Many residents were pleased with the chance to start a new family tradition, like resident Michelle Galindo, who came with her children ages 9, 7 and 3.
"I think it's great for a small town," said Galindo, who heard about the event through a Facebook page for North Riverside residents. "We're kind of a close-knit town and it's nice during the holidays to come out and spend some time with the other families in town to get the holiday spirit going."
Fellow North Riversider and Komarek School parent Leticia Navarro brought her 8- and 5-year-old to the tree lighting.
"It's fantastic seeing the tree for the first year from the ground up and seeing it grow with them," she said. "Hopefully, we can come back years from now when they're teenagers."
Bob Uphues contributed to this report.