A downtown O’Fallon tradition will march in the holiday season Nov. 24, and organizers predict the annual O’Fallon Illuminated Holiday Parade will top the successful re-launch last year.
Help is being sought to make it the best one yet. It’s never too early for Christmas cheer, and much planning goes into the event to make it successful, according to Beth Ortega, who returns as chair for the second year.
“Our focus is to create more magical moments for the community this year. Last year was amazing, but we want it to be bigger and better this year,” Ortega said.
The parade will kick off at 5 p.m. on the Saturday after Thanksgiving, rolling through the festive streets of downtown.
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The group held its first volunteer meeting Oct. 15, and they are looking for more sponsors and volunteers.
“If you want to have fun with some quality people while creating Christmas magic, please join us,” Ortega said.
“Christmas is about bringing people together, spreading joy, and finding time for family and friends. And the parade is an opportunity to make all that tangible,” she said.
Heather Hinson, who is assisting Ortega, said the website, www.ofallonholidayparade.com, has been updated with this year’s applications for sponsorship and/or entry into the parade. For more information or questions, email firstname.lastname@example.org.
“Someone will be checking it daily. We would like to get more community groups to participate by walking in the parade or helping along the parade route. We have room for everyone, they just need to sign up with us,” Hinson said.
This year’s after-party will take place at the new O’Fallon Station pavilion. Plans are in the works for a fun, free post-parade community gathering.
“This year, Santa will be inside for visits with the kids. Outside, we will have tents set up again. This year we are adding an Inflatable Illuminated Village. We hope to get businesses along the parade route to participate by decorating and/or illuminating the outside of their business,” Hinson said.
Ortega said she loved working on last year’s parade so much that she announced she would return as chair soon after it was over. With an army of dedicated volunteers, she took over the parade within 24 hours of the cancellation announcement in 2017. What they put together in three weeks was praised and she is grateful for how the community responded.
“We have some great ideas for an even better experience. Everyone is welcome to help with this free, fun event,” she said.
Ortega said the Van Etten family, who had given their heart and soul to the annual event, could no longer organize it last fall, and she did not want it cancelled.
“I knew people would step up and make it epic. I wanted people to have the chance to show the Van Etten family that their work was loved and appreciated. They did it for the whole town to enjoy,” she said.
“This parade opened doors for volunteering and an opportunity to work together – every one of every age from here and surrounding communities. People miss having a community to be a part of, and this shows that we definitely have one that wants you in it,” she said.
She was in awe of the holiday spirit she witnessed.
“Seeing people with their phones put away, talking to each other, and making new friends. It was what I’ve always wanted to have again here. I grew up that way, where O’Fallon welcomed everyone young and old, and celebrated our friendships with community events. I love nothing more than seeing it return,” she said.
The under-construction pavilion is expected to be finished soon and become an integral hub for community activities and will be home to many holiday-themed events this year, part of a six-week celebration of the holidays, with efforts to support and drive business to the local shops and restaurants downtown.
“We are so excited to bring the magic of Christmas to O’Fallon this year,” said Mary Jeanne Hutchison, director of parks and recreation.
The first special event is the Festival of Trees from Nov. 17 – 25, with a Nov. 16 reception that offers a premier first look. The O’Fallon-Shiloh Chamber of Commerce and HSHS St. Elizabeth’s Foundation have partnered with the city to sponsor it.
The Festival of Trees will feature exclusive holiday trees, 4 to 7 feet tall, and wreaths that have been ornately designed by local community decorators and sponsored by local businesses. Ticket information is available at www.ofallonfestivaloftrees.com.
“It’s fitting that we can kick off both the venue and the holiday season in such a community-centered manner,” Hutchison said.
Located at First and Vine streets, the all-season plaza was designed to create a central gathering place in the heart of the community. It is part of the Destination O’Fallon initiative approved in 2016 and city leaders are confident it will revitalize downtown and make it attractive to residents, visitors and businesses.
Mayor Herb Roach, who described last year’s parade as one of the “greatest” in his memory, said the city was very excited about four things that are going to happen this holiday season: The opening of the new O’Fallon Station, The Festival of Trees, The O’Fallon Christmas Parade and the expanded lighting of downtown.
He praised the parade team effort.
“This is being done by a great group of donors and volunteers and great leadership that saved our Christmas Parade last year. I have been told it will be better than last year,” Roach said. “The purpose of building O’Fallon Station is to provide a space where the community can come together and support local businesses.”
The Festival of Trees will also include O’Fallon Polar Express, an exclusive story time in O’Fallon’s own caboose; Santa & Mrs. Claus visits daily; Craft making for children; hot chocolate; and a Christmas Cocktail Contest.
Entry to the Festival of Trees events is $5 for adults, $3 for seniors, $2 for students, children ages 5 and under are free. Tickets will be available at the door.
The holiday schedule includes:
Nov. 16 – The Extravaganza
Nov. 17- 25 - The Festival of Trees
Nov. 24 – O’Fallon Annual Christmas Parade, 5 p.m.
Dec. 1 – Christmas Hand Lettering for Beginners Class – O’Fallon Station – 10 a.m.
Dec. 8 - O’Fallon-Shiloh Chamber of Commerce’s Tinsel Around Town
Dec. 8 - The Kissing Ball – O’Fallon Station – 10 a.m.
Dec. 8 – Carriage Rides (visit ofallonparksandrec.com for more information)
Dec. 15 – Carriage Rides (visit ofallonparksandrec.com for more information)