GENEVA – Even with the temperature hovering at a frigid 17 degrees, a crowd of people filled Third Street in Geneva to hear Mayor Kevin Burns usher in the traditions of the Christmas Walk.
First, there is the first candy cane of the season, handmade at Graham’s Chocolates and delivered to the mayor. This year, Burns noted, is the 25th consecutive year Graham’s has delivered the cane.
Geneva and Batavia High School marching bands led the way for the cane, to which Burns said Bulldogs had joined Vikings for the occasion.
Santa Lucia, the Swedish spirit of Christmas and her attendants arrived, and passed out pepperkakers – ginger cookies – to the crowd.
Then they counted down to lighting the Great Tree on the courthouse lawn.
“It survived the snow storm,” Burns said, referring to a recent storm that downed branches and trees all over.
Then Santa Claus arrived, the real star of the Christmas Walk.
“Is everybody happy? Is everybody having a good time?” Santa asked.
Many wore festive lights for the occasion – blinking garlands of simulated tree lights, lights in hats, on gloves and shoes.
The event easily draws 25,000 or more people, according to the Geneva Chamber of Commerce, which hosts the event.
This year brought out people who had never been to it before, such as Robert and Priscilla Marquardt of Joliet.
“We’re rookies,” Priscilla Marquardt said with a smile.
“Our son said we should go,” Robert Marquardt said.
At the Berry House, Melissa and Paul Nehr of Plainfield said they came for the Holiday House Tour.
“The house tour was really a lot of fun,” Melissa Nehr said. “Mostly, I enjoyed being in the lines [to go in] talking with other people, getting to know where they’re from and why they’re there and the family members they were with.”
The house tour, also sponsored by the chamber, featuresfive professionally decorated homes with proceeds from the tickets going to support Christmas Walk costs, officials said.
Paul Nehr said his favorite house on the tour was the one with a wood-fired pizza oven in the basement.
“It was a walk-out basement. They had a nice TV room and they had ‘It’s a Wonderful Life’ playing on a big screen,” Paul Nehr said. “You had the big pizza oven, you had the big buffet type table. It was perfect set up for having a bunch of family or friends around.”
Paul Nehr looked at his wife for a moment.
“That pizza oven was No. 1,” Paul Nehr said. “The word for today was ‘pizza oven.’”
Local stores offered later hours as Christmas Walk participants ducked in – not only to shop but to get out of the cold.
At Crystal Life, owner Atala Toy said she’s glad to have things for children in her store, and that it’s a warm oasis for visitors.
“This is one of our most favorite times,” Toy said. “I love to see the dads with their kids on their shoulders, getting up high enough to see Santa. And the mayor always takes the first candy cane and gives it out.I get such a thrill when I’m out there and they’re counting down [to light the tree.]”
The festival continues on Dec. 8 with a reindeer visit from 9 a.m. to noon at Geneva Bank & Trust, 514 W. State St.; a Meet the Authors Party from noon to 4 p.m. at Preservation Bread and Wine, 513 S. Third St., with books for children and adults; “A Christmas Carol” from 6 to 7 p.m. at St. Mark’s Chapel, 320 Franklin St.
Additional events on Sept. 9 include the Four Church Steeple Walk from 2 to 4 p.m. with tickets available online at genevarts.org and Lessons and Carols at 7 p.m. at Geneva Lutheran Church, 301 S.Third St., an evening service shared with St. Peter Catholic Church.
A full schedule is available online a www.genevachamber.com.