50 Ways to Celebrate the Season

We know those Christmas movies are pretty great, but maybe it’s time to find a new tradition, one that puts you alongside your neighbors this holiday season. We found a few new classics in our region.

Tired of those Christmas movies that’ve been running since mid-October? Yearning to improve your holiday routine? Here are 50 suggestions for real-life holiday experiences you can share with real people. Whether you like to play outdoors, listen to seasonal music, count birds or roast them, there are plenty of ways to make your holiday season more special.

Shows & Dining

A Fireside Christmas
Through Dec. 21. Through songs and stories – both traditional and original – the essence of the holiday season is captured. Each year’s performance is different than the one before. Fireside Dinner Theatre, Ft. Atkinson, Wis. Seven shows a week. Firesidetheatre.com.
English Christmas Carols
Dec. 21. If the holidays make you yearn for Olde England, join the Gaudete Brass Quintet & Canterbury Singers, with Mike Van Camp and Todd Gresick, at 7 p.m., at St. Luke’s Episcopal Church in Dixon, Ill.
JR Sullivan’s Hometown Holiday
Dec. 12 & 13. This lively variety show is an annual tradition for many in our region, conceived and produced by the very talented J.R. Sullivan, of the former New American Theater. It features holiday-inspired storytelling, comedy and seasonal and popular songs. Performers include Randy Sabien, Miles Neilsen, Megon McDonough, Linda Abronski, Shawn Wallace and Jeff Christian. Times are 7:30-9:30 p.m. on Dec. 13 and 2 p.m. on Dec. 14, at the Nordlof Center/J.R. Sullivan Theater, 118 N. Main St., Rockford. (815) 965-7606.
Christmas Carol Dinners
Dec. 12, 19, 26 & 31, 6 p.m. Celebrate Christmas in the country at the elegant Goldmoor Inn & Dining, 9001 W. Sand Hill Road, Galena, Ill.
A magical evening will include spectacular views, delectable food, a festive atmosphere and a chorus of Goldmoor carolers singing traditional songs of the season. The menu consists of a five-course traditional English dinner. Reservations required. (800) 255-3925, goldmoor.com.
Holiday Movies at the Coronado
Dec. 13, 11 a.m.-5 p.m. Cinema Series presented by BMO Harris Bank will feature three free holiday movies. The community was active in selecting the movies by participating in a voting contest.
Doors to the historic Coronado Theater will open at 10:15 a.m. and the holiday movie line-up includes the following: 11 a.m., Dr. Seuss’ How the Grinch Stole Christmas; 1 p.m., A Christmas Story; and 3 p.m., Elf.
Holiday organ music will be played by a representative from the Land of Lincoln Theater Organ Society between shows. Refreshments available for purchase; no outside food and beverage allowed. Stop in for just one movie or stay for all three. 314 N. Main St., Rockford. (815) 968-0595, coronadopac.org.
Studio Theatre A Christmas Carol
Through Dec. 13. Charles Dickens’ family classic comes to life in this adaptation by Mike Webb. Ebenezer Scrooge, the greedy London businessman whose coldness is matched only by winter itself, is taken on a journey across time and possibility by the Ghosts of Christmas Past, Present, and Future.
This is a memorable story of light, joy, warmth, and transformation. Recurring weekly on Sun., Wed., Thurs., Fri., & Sat. Rock Valley College Studio Theatre, 3301 N. Mulford Road, Rockford. (815) 921-2160.
Through Dec. 13, 7:30 p.m. A young man brings home his Jewish atheist fiancee to meet his very Catholic parents on Christmas Eve, with an inevitable family explosion and an out-of-left-field miracle. Winneshiek Playhouse, 28 W. Clark St., Freeport, (815) 232-7023, winneshiekplayers.org.
Rock River Philharmonic
Dec. 12 & 14. This holiday pops concert will certainly leave you in the mood to celebrate the season. Guests include a dance troupe and local high school choir, and featured is an original Christmas pop song composed by conductor Rob Tomaro.
The Dec. 12 performance is at Craig High School in Janesville at 7:30 p.m. The Dec. 14 show is at the Eclipse Center in Beloit, at 3 p.m.
It’s A Wonderful Life
Dec. 17. Freeport’s historic Lindo Theatre presents the holiday classic It’s a Wonderful Life, starring Jimmy Stewart and Donna Reed, at 1 and 7 p.m. Sponsored by FHN. A free-will offering and/or food drive donation is encouraged. The food donations will go to the Freeport Area Church Cooperative (FACC).
Christmas Cabaret
Dec. 19, 7:30 p.m. Holiday-themed movie and musical theater songs performed by Rock County’s greatest vocal talents in a jazz club atmosphere. Complimentary champagne and holiday desserts. Limited seating. Janesville Performing Arts Center, Janesvillepac.org.
Christmas with Kantorei
Dec. 19, 7 p.m. Celebrate Christmas around the world in a festive program of familiar carols and songs of the season performed by Kantorei, The Singing Boys of Rockford. $20/$15 students. Our Savior’s Lutheran Church, 3300 Rural St., Rockford, (815) 963-2544, kantorei.com.
RSO Holiday Pops!
Dec. 20-21, Saturday at 7:30 p.m; Sunday at 3 p.m. Stephen Larsen, conductor. The Mendelssohn Chorale teams up with Rockford Symphony Orchestra for truly special performances of the best music of the season, from pops to traditional and sentimental, on the stage of elegant Coronado Performing Arts Centre in Rockford, (815) 965-0049, rockfordsymphony.com.
Bel Canto Singers
Dec. 21, 7 p.m. “A Choral Christmas” will be presented by 25-member Bel Canto Singers of Monroe, Wis., under the direction of Allen Redford, director of choral music at Highland College. This concert includes music by Bach, Rutter, Christiansen and Handel and features Deborah Krauss-Smith on the organ, and Christina Parkinson playing harp. St. Victor Catholic Church, 1760 14th St., Monroe, Wis.(608) 214-0331.
A Christmas Carol Radio Play
Through Dec. 21. Be part of the studio audience as Artist Ensemble Theater recreates a live broadcast of this classic tale, just as it was performed during the golden age of radio. Four actors tell the story, along with an elaborate sound-effects table and live musicians, as Scrooge spends a memorable Christmas Eve with a series of ghosts, until he is joyfully reawakened. Ensemble member Stephen F. Vrtol III plays everyone’s favorite skinflint. Thurs. to Sun., with two performances on Saturdays, at 4 and 8 p.m. Cheek Theater at Rockford University, 5050 E. State St., Rockford.Tickets: click4tix.com.
Irish Dancing in Galena
Every weekend. Enjoy traditional Irish dancing at Frank O’Dowd’s Irish Pub & Grill, in the Irish Cottage Boutique Hotel on Hwy. 20 in Galena, Ill. It’ll be decked out in its best holiday finery during December. Performances are about 20 minutes long and take place sometime between 6:30 and 7:30 p.m. Costumed dancers wear both hard and soft shoes. ◊
Christmas Cantata
Dec. 21, 10:30 a.m., Spring Creek United Church of Christ, 4500 Spring Creek Road, (815) 877-2576. Also Dec. 24 Christmas Eve services at 5 and 10 p.m., with the theme “To Shake the Hand of a Foe as a Friend” in remembrance of the British and German troops in the trenches of World War I who declared a momentary truce during Christmas of 1914.

New Year’s Eve

New Year’s Eve Bash – Galena
7:30 p.m. At Galena Brewery, 227 N. Main St. Featuring The Lonely Goats, who play dance, Latin, funk, rock, reggae, ska, blues, hillbilly, zydeco and are known for playing familiar songs in different styles than the originals. galenabrewery.com.
New Year’s Eve Bash – Rockford
From 9 p.m.-3 a.m. A luxurious affair with live performances, dancing, a Steppers show, food and a champaign fountain. Enjoy performances by Big Daddy Woo Woo, Cordiero, and a live DJ. Dress code is black tie, formal attire.
Must be at least age 25. Benefits Rockford’s Creative Partners, whose mission is to creatively restore community engagement and cohesiveness. (815) 519-0395, $50; early bird special by Dec. 15 $40 or 2 for $75. Bahia Restaurant at Mulford Plaza, 6116 Mulford Village Dr., Rockford.
Starved Rock NYE Party
From 6 p.m. to 1:30 a.m. in the Great Hall or book a room overnight. An evening of fun, food and music. This year’s theme is “Under the Sea.” Price is $450 per couple. Includes overnight accommodations for two guests, open bar, party favors, hors d’oeuvres, buffet dinner, live entertainment by two great bands in the Great Hall, a champagne toast at midnight, late check-out at noon, New Year’s Day Brunch, plus a chance to win a $1,000 travel voucher. For reservations, call (815) 220-7386.
NYE Charity Gala – Dixon
8 p.m. A night of live music with dinner and dancing. Benefitting Safe Families for Children. Brandywine Banquet Center, 441 Illinois Route 2, Dixon. Tickets: eventbrite.com.
New Years Bash – Merrill & Houston’s Steak Joint
Dec. 31. Regular dinner service followed by complimentary Hors d’oeurvres after 11 p.m. and a midnight champagne toast. Live music includes Duane Worden from 7 to 10 p.m. and The Gary Band from 9 p.m. to 1 a.m.
New Year’s Eve Bash at Cliffbreakers
Dec. 31, 8 p.m. to 2 a.m., 700 W. Riverside Blvd., Rockford, admission $20 or $35 per couple.

Lights & Luminaries

Rockford Festival of Lights
Through Dec. 28, Fri.-Sun., 5-10 p.m. Drive past 50 spectacular lighted displays inside scenic Sinnissippi Park. These displays are created by local businesses and groups, and include Santa Claus, reindeer, snowmen, nativity scenes and more. This event has become a stateline family tradition since 1989 and is expected to be the largest, ever, this year. It began with just 11 displays and has grown to more than 50. When exiting the park, look for the North Pole Express Mailbox. Don’t forget a return address so Santa can reply.
Christmas in the Country
Through Dec. 31. The annual five-week long Christmas in the Country Celebration includes the illumination of more than 2 million lights across the resort’s 1,300 acres of rolling countryside. The Lodge at Grand Geneva features dozens of holiday displays, daily holiday teas, gingerbread house building contests and breakfast with Santa. Two live holiday performances, “A Christmas Portrait” and “Thomas & Friends: A Holiday Adventure” will be performed. Grand Geneva Resort & Spa, through Dec. 31.
Galena’s Night of the Luminaria
Dec. 13, 6-10 p.m. If you’ve never seen Galena’s streets, steps and sidewalks aglow with nearly 5,000 candlelit luminaries, you’re in for an unforgettable sight.
Rotary Botanical Gardens Holiday Light Show
Dec. 12-28, 4:30-8 p.m. Fri.-Sun. See gorgeous Rotary Gardens sparkle with more than 350,000 lights. There are animated displays, local musicians, pizza, hot cocoa and cookies. New this year are selfie stops & photo opps; a Facebook/Instagram photo contest; and a life-size elf house. There’s an Ugly Sweater Night on Dec., 12; railway model trains on display indoors; and Santa arrives at 5:30 p.m. on Dec. 19-23. On Dec. 22 Santa will bring along his live reindeer!
All Aglow Holiday Display
Through Jan. 6, 10 a.m.-3 p.m. Tropical warmth comes together with holiday cheer at Nicholas Conservatory & Gardens in Rockford. Enjoy light and floral displays, live holiday music, and family fun activities throughout December.1354 N. 2nd St., Rockford, (815) 987-8858.
Community Festival of Trees- Freeport
Through Jan. 2. Meander through a wonderland of Christmas trees decorated by competing groups, at the Freeport Public Library. Vote for your favorite by Dec. 20. See website for hours.
Illumination: Tree Lights
Through Jan. 3, 5-9:30 p.m. A magical light show with dazzling LED lights and trees that respond to touch and sound. At the 1,700-acre Morton Arboretum in Lisle, Ill., stroll more than a mile of innovative lights and projections, with trees that respond to your hug or voice, and enjoy music from the Chicago Symphony Orchestra. Tickets available online at MortonArb.org, by phone at (630) 719-2066 or at the Arboretum.

Outdoor Fun

Ski, Skate, Sleigh Rides
Through the season. Skiers and snowboarders flock to the Mountain Top at Grand Geneva Resort, Lake Geneva, Wis., which offers 18 challenging runs up to a quarter mile in length. Runs are available at every ability level and there is also a terrain park for even more exciting snowboard action. Cross-country skiing and ice skating are also popular. Enjoy a good old-fashioned sleigh ride, available at Field Stone Farm & Carriage at Grand Geneva Resort.
Christmas Bird Count
Dec. 14. Join other bird lovers in northwest Winnebago County and help to conduct an annual census to better understand the populations and problems of birds, locally and nationwide. Beginners welcome. To participate, call Dan Williams, (815) 979-8335.
Kishwaukee Christmas Bird Count
Dec. 20. Southern Winnebago and northern Ogle counties. To participate, call Barbara Williams, (779) 537-3352.
Snowshoe Ball 5K
Dec. 20, 10 a.m. Snowshoe, run or walk to support local cancer patients. Join the KlariFly Foundation at Lacoma Golf Course in Dubuque, Iowa, for a family event hosted by local celebtrity Chris Farber. He’ll spin some rockin’ holiday music as you finish the 5k with a mimosa, hot drink, fruit and yummies. There’s a cocoa booth, and you can have your picture taken on the red carpet.
Winter Bird Walk
Jan. 10, 8:30-10:30 a.m. Get up early and help local bird expert Dan Williams search and listen for native birds in the quiet atmosphere. He will lead a family-friendly walk to identify the many birds making the arboretum their home. Come dressed for the weather, and don’t forget to warm up with hot chocolate afterward. Stay and make a bird feeder to attract some of those birds just identified on the walk. All ages welcome. Included with admission. Klehm Arboretum, Rockford.
Illinois Snow Sculpting
Jan. 14-17 for state competition; Jan. 15-17 for high school competition. Awards ceremony Jan. 17 at 1 p.m. Sinnissippi Park, 1401 N. Second St., Rockford, Ill. Viewing hours from sunrise until 10:30 p.m., driving or walking.
Winterfest in Lake Geneva
Jan. 28-Feb. 7. Featuring the U.S. National Snow Sculpting Competition, music, magic, refreshments, activities, helicopter rides, shopping and dining. At the lakefront Riviera in Lake Geneva. Go to usnationals.org or lakegenevawi.com.

History & Culture

Holiday House Tours
Through Dec. 31, 10 a.m.-3 p.m. daily. See Victorian holiday traditions and customs as the Tallman family did, during a holiday tour of the award-winning Lincoln-Tallman House in Janesville.
The Rock County Historical Society transforms the 1850s restored 26-room mansion into an example of Victorian holiday splendor with eleborate decorations and insightful stories.
Holiday decorations include more than 100 feet of garland, nearly 100 candles and five fabulous Christmas trees; a Victorian-era tree festooned with over 500 spectacular ornaments, a Civil War era tree decorated with quaint handmade ornaments, a stunning white tree from the early 1900s and two other beautiful trees.
Holiday displays in dining rooms, bedchambers and parlors reflect what the lifestyl of a family living in the mansion during the period may have been like. Displays include handmade quilts and coverlets, and musical instruments of the era.
Victorian Christmas at Beckman Mill
Dec. 13, 3-7 p.m. Celebrate the season and see life from the Dickens time period at Beckman Mill, a 50-acre park near Beloit. The mill’s festivities and spectacular decorations will bring Christmas past to life. Enjoy hot apple cider, gingerbread, a roaring bonfire, Victorian dancing, and caroling that will put you in the holiday spirit. Learn about holiday activities, games, traditions, and Victorian decorating by living history presenters dressed in period clothing. Check out what nature is doing in the winter, children’s activities and making decorations for our wildlife friends at the Welty Environmental Center.  There’s a nature lover’s gift shop, too. Call (608) 751-1551.
Holiday Happenings
Dec. 14, noon-4 p.m. Visit three very special Rockford museums and travel among them by horse-drawn wagon. One ticket gets you into the Ethnic Heritage Museum, Tinker Swiss Cottage and the Erlander Home. Pre-order tickets at any of the venues. See longer story on p. 213.
An Old World Christmas
Dec. 13-14, 10 a.m.-5 p.m. Step back in time at Old World Wisconsin, near Eagle, Wis., for a day-long, 19th-century celebration of Christmas tales and holiday customs, with storytelling, live performances, free horse-drawn bobsled rides (or wagon rides, if there’s no snow), caroling and hymn singing, food sampling and lots of other activities that capture the merriment of the season.
The 19th-century crossroads village will be trimmed for the holidays, and wood-fired stoves and bonfires will offer warmth and good cheer. Have your photo taken with a 19th-century Santa or duck into a Finnish sauna.
Mistletoe Stroll House Tour
Dec. 20, 2-5 p.m. Bed and Breakfast Innkeepers of Galena invite you to tour historic inns, all lavishly decorated for Christmas.
From traditions of the past to current day décor, each inn is unique. Sample each inn’s favorite holiday cookie or candy and receive a copy of each recipe so you can amaze your family and friends with delicious baked goods. $10. Children under 12 free. (815) 777-3323.
World Peace Afternoon Tea
Dec. 28, 2 p.m. Jim Winkler, president of the National Council of Churches, will talk about “How Churches Can Help Bring About World Peace.” Grace United Methodist Church, 3555 McFarland Road, Rockford. The event is free, open to the public and refreshments will be served.
A New Year Around the World
Dec. 31, 10 a.m.-4 p.m. Annual family celebration. On each hour, welcome the new year as it occurs around the globe. Families can make a variety of traditional New Years crafts from around the world and see displays of items from other countries, including specimens from the Museum’s permanent collection. Included with admission.

Especially for Kids

Gingerbread Art
Through Jan. 1. Gingerbread House display at Grand Geneva Resort & Spa. Area residents, in both amateur and professional, adult or child categories, display their masterpieces through the holidays, just outside Ristorante Brissago. Come in and view these fabulous creations! 7036 Grand Geneva Way, Lake Geneva, Wis. (262) 248-8811, grandgeneva.com.
Dave Rudolf!
Dec. 20, 11 a.m. Celebrate the holidays with a different Rudolph – the entertainer shares hilarious songs and stories in this interactive Christmas show. Nordlof Center, 118 N. Main St., Rockford, rockforedpubliclibrary.org.
Yes, Virginia!
Dec. 20 & 21, Saturday 3 and 7 p.m., Sunday 1 and 6 p.m. Children’s Theater Project presents Macy’s “Yes, Virginia! Does Santa Claus Really Exist?” That’s a question kids have been asking for generations. In 1897, one precocious little girl named Virginia O’Hanlon was determined to find an answer. Her letter to The New York Sun prompted one of the most famous newspaper editorials of all time, and inspired future generations to believe in the holiday spirit. Nordlof Center, 118 N. Main St., Rockford.
Holiday Hoopla
Dec. 26-30, 11:30 a.m.-3:30 p.m. Deck the halls with boughs of jolly as you merge hands-on arts and crafts with amazing math. Vote for your favorite cookie, fashion a snowflake, construct a kaleidoscope, find hidden shapes. Included with museum admission. Discovery Center Museum, 711 N. Main St., Rockford, (815) 963-6769, discoverycentermuseum.org.
Countdown to Fun
Dec. 31, 12:30-4:30 p.m. Design a party hat, create a noisemaker, and get showered with confetti on New Year’s Eve at Discovery Center Museum. Ring in the New Year with a fun blend of art plus music from Kantorei, the Singing Boys of Rockford.
The Children’s Holiday Shoppe
Dec. 14, 17, 19, & 21, Tuesdays & Thursdays 3-7 p.m.; Saturdays 10 a.m.-6 p.m. This special store at 5856 E. State St. (between Valli Foods and Hancock Fabrics) is a place where children can shop for new gifts priced from $1 to $8.
Parents take a much-needed break as volunteers assist children in choosing gifts for the special people in their lives. Gifts will be wrapped and tagged and excited young shoppers will return to their parents thrilled to have shopped independently and practiced their budgeting skills. The Children’s Holiday Shoppe benefits Children’s Home + Aid’s MotherHouse Crisis Nursery and is made possible by more than 250 volunteers.
Thomas & Friends
Through Dec. 31. This show is performed throughout the season, along with “A Christmas Portrait” at Grand Geneva Resort & Spa, in Lake Geneva, Wis. Grandgeneva.com.
Kids Day Out Severson Dells
Dec. 30, 9 a.m.-2 p.m. A fun-filled adventure with hiking, hot chocolate, marshmallows, games and art activities. Grades 1-5. No fee, but registration required by Dec. 26. Minimum of 10 children. (815) 335-2915.