Santa gets ready to flip the switch to light up the blue spruce in front of the North Riverside Village Commons — and the night sky with fireworks — during the tree-lighting ceremony in 2019. | Bob Uphues/Editor

Since 2017, the Village of North Riverside has proudly rung in the holiday season with an annual tree lighting ceremony in front of the Village Commons, 2401 Desplaines Ave., illuminating a blue spruce tree with twinkling lights as neighbors and village officials watch on.

Five years later, the Village has made a few updates to its seasonal celebration, rebranding this year’s event as North Riverside Winterfest and promising a fireworks-free evening filled with carols, cocoa, camaraderie and Christmas cheer.

From 6 to 8 p.m. on Wednesday, Dec. 1, this year’s celebration has been extended an extra half hour from previous years’ events to provide more time for mingling with neighbors and village officials. However, visitors are encouraged to attend as early as possible, as flipping the switch on the Christmas tree will occur closer to the start of the event.

Teresa Mrozik, director of North Riverside’s Parks and Recreations Department, says this year’s reimagined program will not only be a great way to celebrate the holidays back in-person, but catch up with familiar faces.

“Last year because of the pandemic, our tree lighting consisted of cars lined up along Desplaines Avenue and the police department lot,” she said. “This year, the event is just going to be such a nice kickoff to the holiday season. As the sun goes down earlier and the weather gets cooler, everyone starts to retreat a little bit, so this event will put out the good holiday vibes and get everyone warm and merry for the season.”

With the brightly lit tree as a festive backdrop, Santa and Mrs. Claus will be on hand to hear gift wishes from children and for photo ops with families.

To give the event an old-fashioned holiday spirit, musical entertainment will be provided by The Chicago Carolers, a troupe professional singers and actors who don Victorian costumes and sing favorite seasonal tunes.

Buddy the Elf poses for a photos with young fans whose families escaped the cold for a few minutes inside the North Riverside Village Commons during the tree-lighting ceremony in 2019. | Bob Uphues/Editor

In true North Riverside crafting fashion, Winterfest will feature a reindeer food station, where children can put together bags of reindeer food (oats and glitter) to leave out on their front lawns on Christmas Eve to keep the guides of Santa’s sleigh well-fed.

Speaking of Santa’s sleigh, families can enjoy live reindeer and sleigh rides through Commons Park throughout the evening, and after, take a peek at ice carvers creating one-of-a-kind sculptures of fan-favorite Olaf from Disney’s “Frozen.”

To keep warm, visitors can gather around the campfire to make S’mores or enjoy light refreshments at the hot chocolate station. Berwyn-based vendor, Lulu’s Cakes and Sweets, will also be on hand selling a variety of sugary seasonal baked goods.

Village Christmas Party

In addition to Winterfest, the village is continuing the holiday celebration with the annual Village Christmas Party on Thursday, Dec. 16 from 5:30-7:30 p.m. inside the gymnasium at the Village Commons.

Branded as a giveback event for North Riverside residents only, the free program is focused on community fellowship and sharing a warm meal with friends and neighbors new and old.

To enter, residents must show an ID with proof of North Riverside residency. Walk-ins are welcome, and no prior registration is needed.

The party will be very kid-friendly, featuring a visit from Santa Claus himself, a letter-making station for kids to pen letters to the North Pole’s most famous resident, a balloon artist and holiday crafting tables.

Holiday music will be pumped throughout the gymnasium as guests eat a delicious holiday meal. While the event typically features a large holiday buffet, for health reasons due to the pandemic, this year’s dinner will most likely be provided in the form of a warm, pre-boxed dinner.

Though the party will include high-energy holiday fun, Mrozik says the event is not just for families with young children or residents who are typically involved with programming in town — it’s one open to North Riverside residents of all ages, from toddlers to seniors.

“It’s such a unique event — being indoors, it’s warm and comfy and it’s a great way to get that holiday feel with neighbors and friends,” Mrozik said. “Not all towns are lucky enough to extend the invite to their residents to come on in and celebrate the season with one another, and I think that’s really important.”