Events | The Scene

Festive holiday gnomes return to Joliet’s Bicentennial Park

Jan Novotny: ‘I imagine they’ll be wheeling Tom and I out eventually’

The 47th Festival of the Gnomes frolics into Joliet on Dec. 2 and 3 at Billie Limacher Bicentennial Park Theatre in Joliet.

Jan Novotny of Joliet played “the golden goose” during her first year with Joliet’s “Festival of Gnomes.”

“I remember walking around, flapping my wings and honking,” Novotny said.

That was 37 years ago. Novotny and her husband, Tom Novotny, are still with the festival.

The 47th Festival of the Gnomes will be Dec. 2 and 3 at the Billie Limacher Bicentennial Park Theatre in Joliet. This indoor, all-age, holiday event features a 90-minute live show and a Gnome Gift Shop, where attendees can get a gnome cap.

Already have a gnome cap? Get a yearly, commemorative tassel sewed onto it for free.

Be sure to stop at the Cookie Factory for treats and hot chocolate and Tavern on the Bricks for soft drinks, beer and wine. Enter to win soft-sculptured twin gnome dolls signed by the artist, Sally Susner.

Tickets are $5.

There’s no place like ‘gnome’ for the holidays

Jan Novotny, 78, said she joined “Festival of Gnomes” in 1987, the year after her teen daughter Lori Carmine joined the holiday play at the Bicentennial theater.

Tom Novotny, Carmine’s father, joined in 1988, Jan said. Carmine is Bicentennial Park’s director.

Through the years, the Novotnys’ four children and all but one of their 10 grandchildren have participated at some point, said Jan, the show’s director and one of its performers.

“But once Tom and I got into it, we stayed put,” Jan said. “I imagine they’ll be wheeling Tom and I out eventually.”

Tom has one solid reason why he’s still in the show.

“The families that come,” he said, “they’re so animated and into what’s going on.”

For a long time, Tom and I played the woodsman and his wife. And we had many, many children. After a while, it became apparent we were too old to have many, many children.”

—  Jan Novotny of Joliet, director and performer, "Festival of Gnomes"

The late Billie Limacher, founder and longtime manager of Bicentennial Park, created the “Festival of Gnomes” with another former longtime park manager, the late Georgiann Goodson.

Goodson based the resource material on a gnome book by Wil Huygen and Rien Poortvliet, which she found in a bookstore in Wisconsin, Goodson said in a 1999 Herald-News story.

Their thinking was to create a holiday event of good will that all people of any age could enjoy, regardless of how they celebrated the holiday season.

“It’s all about doing good things for man and nature,” Jan Novotny said. “That was a very nice idea. And it just becomes part of your life. Once a gnome, always a gnome.”

Limacher herself attended the show as Grandma Gnome through her late 90s, Jan said. For this reason, Jan refused to be called Grandma Gnome.

“I suppose I’m a Grandma Gnome,” she said. “But I’m not the Grandma Gnome.”

Festival of Gnomes

The “Festival of Gnomes” also served as a way for Tom and Jan, both longtime members of the Joliet Drama Guild, to perform onstage without a huge time commitment.

“Tom and I both love theater,” Jan said. “But at the time, we had a bunch of young teenagers. We didn’t have the time to do a regular play where you rehearse night after night for six weeks or so.”

Jan said some characters and parts of the script are intact 47 years later – and recurring cast members do ad lib. The golden goose is one character that “came and went,” Jan said.

She said she can just “rattle off her lines without batting an eye” – unless someone interrupts her.

“For a long time, Tom and I played the woodsman and his wife. And we had many, many children,” Jan said. “After a while, it became apparent we were too old to have many, many children. So we stepped back from the woodsman and his wife. Now, gnomes live to be 100 or 200 years old. But the woodsman is a human being and a little too old to have all those kids.”

These days, Tom and Jan appear as gnomes and portray animals, although Jan said she no longer crawls around the stage on her hands and knees.

“The stairs are getting harder to climb, too,” she said.

Tom agreed.

“When I started, my body was able to do more than in recent years,” he said. “I used to leap off that old stage shouting out names. I’d do that then go up in the air and then land in the pit. But it was always fun.”


WHAT: 47th Festival of the Gnomes

WHEN: 2 p.m. Dec. 2 and 3

WHERE: Billie Limacher Bicentennial Park Theatre, 201 W. Jefferson St., Joliet

ETC: Gnome Gift shop, concessions, free parking

TICKETS: $5 each, all ages. Purchase online (preferred, no fees) or at the door while available.

INFORMATION: Call 815-724-3761 or visit

Denise  Unland

Denise M. Baran-Unland

Denise M. Baran-Unland is the features editor for The Herald-News in Joliet. She covers a variety of human interest stories. She also writes the long-time weekly tribute feature “An Extraordinary Life about local people who have died. She studied journalism at the College of St. Francis in Joliet, now the University of St. Francis.