Joliet lights up holidays with Friday festival

Festival starts at 10 a.m., parade at 5:30 p.m.

Santa makes it to the Light up the Holidays Tree Lighting and Parade Van Buren Plaza Downtown Joliet,Illinois on Friday, November 29, 2013. | Larry Kane/For Sun-Times Media

Skating, carriage rides and craft gift shopping capped off with a big parade will bring a holiday atmosphere to downtown Joliet on Friday.

Organizers of the city’s annual Light Up the Holidays Festival and Parade have added some new features aimed at creating a Hallmark Christmas atmosphere for the daylong event.

Anywhere from 5,000 to 10,000 people are expected, most of them coming for the parade that starts at 5:30 p.m. after the lighting of the city’s Christmas tree. There are 75 parade entrants including six marching bands.

Joliet Township West marching band members with santa hats on at the Light up the Holidays Tree Lighting and Parade Van Buren Plaza Downtown Joliet,Illinois on Friday, November 29, 2013. | Larry Kane/For Sun-Times Media

Event organizers have created plenty of reasons to come earlier in the day.

“We’re trying to create a very festive event where families will want to come downtown and celebrate the holidays,” said Priscilla Cordero, executive director of the Joliet City Center Partnership.

Cordero said organizers want to create a Hallmark Christmas atmosphere downtown.

Planters on Chicago Street have been filled with evergreen, birch and candy cane decorations. At least a dozen businesses have participated in a holiday decorating contest. And, local artists have put vacant storefronts to use for seasonal art.

It won’t be expensive to join in the holiday spirit since everything with the exception of the merchandise at a new North Pole Christmas Market is free.

Thousands came out to enjoy the 20th anniversary of the Light Up the Holidays Festival and Parade in downtown Joliet.

Here’s a look at what’s happening Friday.

• The North Pole Christmas Market open at 10 a.m. and runs to 5 p.m. in the Renaissance Center, 214 N. Ottawa Street. Twenty-five local venters will sell holiday decor, winter clothing, chocolates and assorted crafted goods that could make unique holiday gifts.

• A North Pole Park opens at 1:30 p.m. with activities going until 5:30 p.m. that include skating and curling on artificial surfaces. Skates and curling equipment is provided at no charge, and there is no cost to skate or curl. There also will be an inflatable snow globe and an ice-carving demonstration by professional ice carver Nalia Warmack, a Joliet Junior College graduate who practices her art throughout the Chicago area.

• Free horse-drawn carriage rides will be provided from 2 to 5 p.m.

• The Joliet Area Historical Museum will be open with no charge for admission from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m., providing a Bicentennial Park Gnome Show, take-home crafts for kids, a scavenger hunt, and a visit from Santa along with the museum exhibits giving local glimpses into the past.

• The Joliet Public Library will provide kids crafts, family photo opportunities, and the starting point for a Holiday Story Stroll that involves visits to downtown locations to piece together the story.

• The lighting of the city Christmas tree at 5:15 p.m. is preceded by a performance from the Joliet Central High School Madrigal Singers.

The city Christmas tree is lit during the Light Up the Holidays festivities Friday in Joliet.

• The parade at 5:30 p.m. includes the Laraway School Band, Joliet Central High School Band, Joliet West High School Band, Troy Middle School Marching Band, Joliet Police Pipe and Drums, and Joliet American Legion Band.

People can find out more about the event at the City Center Partnership website, including a parking map. All street parking and parking in city owned lots and the Ottawa Street deck will be free Friday.

An extra plus for the event, Cordero said, is that all Joliet drawbridges downtown are open.

At least one of the five downtown drawbridges has been closed for repairs and inspections for most of the year, and an inspection of the Jefferson Street bridge has just been completed.

“They’re all working,” Cordero said.