ST. CHARLES – As Friday turned to dusk, Lauren Bowgren and her fiance, Todd Algrim, worked to activate hand warmers to fend off the chill while waiting for the city’s annual Lighting of the Lights ceremony to begin.
“I don’t feel any warmth, though,” Bowgren said.
Although she and Algrim live in Sugar Grove, they grew up in St. Charles and wanted to share the community’s Holiday Homecoming traditions with her 8-year-old son, Nick.
Hundreds of others eventually joined them at the First Street Plaza, which hosted the event for the second consecutive year. The ceremony previously had been a few blocks west, at Lincoln Park.
Lynne Schwartz, executive director of Downtown St. Charles Partnership, said the new location is working out well. She noted people can stand outside or watch the festivities from inside neighboring businesses.
Resident Michele Anderson, however, favors the Lincoln Park setting. Its gazebo is a natural stage, she said, and when the lights are lit, the crowd is enveloped in a canopy of lights supported by mature trees.
“It’s like a Norman Rockwell setting,” Anderson said.
Her feelings were so strong that she – with her husband’s permission – polled attendees about their preference, jotting the results in a spiral-bound notebook.
Most people preferred Lincoln Park, and she plans to inform the city of her results, she said. She did note that the First Street Plaza is beautiful and delightful to those who didn’t have the experience at the park.
Lora Vitek and her children, 2-year-old Quinn and 5-year-old Gracie, were looking forward to participating in the tradition because they are in the process of moving to St. Charles from Bartlett, she said.
For resident Pete Kessler, who carried his 5-year-old son, Aiden, on his shoulders, the Lighting of the Lights starts off the holiday season for his family.
As the crowd gathered in the plaza and stood in line for free cookies, hot chocolate and coffee along First Street, Dennis Ziegert manned a Salvation Army red kettle, his first of many bell-ringing shifts for the season.
Ziegert, formerly of St. Charles but now of Elgin, said he knows first-hand how important The Salvation Army’s work is. The organization was the first to help him when he was laid off in the 1980s, he said, noting it happened right before Christmas.
He said he will participate with The Salvation Army in Saturday’s Electric Christmas Parade.
Many others at the lighting ceremony Friday said they planned to return for the parade and other Holiday Homecoming activities – such as a free Christmas movie at the Arcada Theatre and free horse-drawn sleigh rides – Saturday.
Lonnie Swan, who owns Swan’s Christmas Trees with Gary Swan, said he likes the exposure his downtown lot will get during the weekend’s festivities.
Located along the west bank of the Fox River just south of Main Street, the lot sells wreathes, roping and a variety of trees, including the popular Fraser fir, Douglas fir, balsam fir and Korean fir.
“It’s nice to be downtown St. Charles with all the people and businesses,” said Swan, noting there’s a camaraderie among local businesses.