A made to order day greeted the 18th annual "A Wonderful Life in Lake Bluff" day-long Christmas and Holiday celebration on Saturday, December 1st.
Although the scheduled activities were much the same as in years past, there were many opportunities to experience the activities including food, fun and shopping in fresh and new ways, as I joined in the merry-making, mingling with parents with children in tow, whose contagious-like excitement was an added bonus to an already festive day.
Walking the few blocks from my home in Lake Bluff, my arrival was timed to the start time of horse-drawn carriage rides at 11:00 a.m., courtesy of the Lake Forest Bank and Trust. I quickly spied Lyla, resplendent in black hat and red jacket, waiting for the carriage to load so the lucky ones could experience an old-fashioned ride around the block, pulled by Pawnee, a beautiful black horse decked out for the occasion with a striking red plume.
I was informed by the owner of the Antique Coach & Carriage Co., Debbie Hay, which rents Horse Drawn Carriages for all occasions, that although the rentals are mostly seasonal, rentals do take place all year long, with weddings being a specialty. This was a busy day for the Antique Coach and Carriage Co. After Lake Bluff the day called for two more gigs, one of them in the community of Olympia Field.
I was further informed that If you missed the Lake Bluff carriage rides, Antique Coach and Carriage Co. would be in Lake Forest. Although not definite, it was thought to be three December Sundays in a row, the 9th, 16th, and 23rd, from 12:00 to 3:00 p.m to further promote the Christmas and Holiday season in Lake Forest. www.antiquecoach.carriage.com
A familiar sight was to see Albert Vgolini roasting chestnuts in front of Peg Ann & Kompany. Ermanno Amidei, owner of the alley-like market place behind the formerly Marshall Field’s building and across from the Lake Forest Post Office, sponsors the chestnut roasting events in communities near by to Lake Forest.
Vgolini orders his chestnuts from Italy, which he claims are the very best. It was doubtful whether the ship bringing the chestnuts from Italy would arrive in time as Hurricane Sandy prevented the ship from docking. But the ship did dock in time to unload, so the fragrant and delicious roasted chestnuts could be enjoyed by many who were drawn to the site of Vgolijni's roasting area in front of Peg Ann and Kompany. Sometime next week Albert Vgolini will be doing the same in Highland Park.
Santa arrives at the Lake Bluff History Center adjacent to the LB Library on a LB fire truck
At 12:00 noon on the dot the siren rang out, the signal that the Lake Bluff fire truck carrying Santa was on its way. I dashed to the corner of Center and Scranton and was rewarded by a smiling Santa who waved as he passed by on his way to the Lake Bluff History Center where a decorated Christmas tree, a Santa-throne, and eager children with parents all awaited his arrival.
Arriving inside the Lake Bluff History Center, Santa was greeted by two of his elves, Julia Malhee and Abbie Logan. Elf Abbie helped Santa organize his special one-on-one listening sessions with children, many of whom seemed star-struck in Santa's presence.
Music fills the afternoon
Music abounded in the afternoon. Groups of singers expressed the joys of the season through the beauty of their voices. Gatherings of various choral groups could be heard and seen in front of businesses as well as inside their establishments. Wherever gathered, it wasn't long before strollers found their way to enjoy first hand the music of the carolers.
Featured groups from Lake Forest High School were the Madrigal Singers under the direction of Timothy Haskell, Choral Director at Lake Forest High School, and the Bel Canto Singers, an all girl's group, directed by Randy Casey.
Curious as to why Randy Casey had charge of the LFHS Bel Canto Singers, a few questions to Timothy Haskell informed me that Randy Casey is the hired accompanist for all Haskell's LFHS choral groups. In regard to the Bel Canto Singers, Haskell formed this group years ago, but then found he didn't have time in his schedule to conduct the group himself. The responsibility was accordingly given to Haskell's accompanist, whoever the accompanist was at the time, of which Timothy Haskell has had five over the span on his teaching career.
The Buckthorns, known for its Acapella singing from rock to folk, country to doo sop, Broadway to gospel, and contemporary to classical, performed Christmas favorites and gems of the season inside the Inovasi restaurant lobby. Founding members of the group, organized in 1995 for charitable purposes, are Sandy Turner and Suzie McMurray. Suzie is the proprietor of Viola in Lake Bluff. Over the years the Buckthorns have raised $40,000 for charity. Its membership varies from 12 to 13 members, divided among those who sing soprano, alto, tenor and bass. "Mary had a Baby" -- a favorite of mine -- featured Suzie McMurray, while soprano Carmen Gunning sang in German the first verse of "Silent Night," after which all the Buckthorns joined in for verses two and three.
The Buckthorns' rendition of "Jingle Bell Rock" pleased young and old. It was evident that the Buckthorns enjoyed performing "Jingle Bell Rock" as much as those assembled enjoyed "rocking along" with the rhythmic and popular Christmas song first released by Bobby Helms in 1957. Adding dazzle to the group's performance were the flashing necklaces worn by the gals.
Santa's reindeer visit Lake Bluff
Hearing there were two reindeer and their elf handlers positioned in front of the Memorial plaque on the Village Green, I hurried to the site where many had already gathered to meet Santa's reindeer and elf handlers -- five-year-old Angel with elf handler Sparkles, and six-year-old Poinsettia with elf handler Abbie.
Questions asked of the elves by children who were indeed curious about the reindeer, many eager to touch them while their moms and dads were busy with their cameras:
Question: "Are the reindeer from the North Pole?" Answer: "They are, but they were brought from the North Pole by Santa Claus to visit a spa at Summerfield Farm and Zoo in Belvidere, IL, to rest up before beginning their long journey around the world with Santa delivering gifts to boys and girls."
Question: "Why is Poinsettia missing one of her antlers?" Answer: "She was too rough in playing reindeer games at the North Pole."
Question: "Where is Rudolph?" Answer: "He stayed at the North Pole so he doesn't wear out his nose before Christmas."
Question: "Can reindeer fly?" Answer: "No, Santa's magic is needed to make them fly."
One precocious child informed elf Debbie that she didn't look like a elf, but instead like a regular girl!
Gazebo lighting celebration of the Green
With darkness closing in with the approach of 5:00 p.m, I crossed the Village Green to witness what was the perfect finish to "It's a Wonderful Life" in Lake Bluff day-long celebration, the lighting of the gazebo. Cathy O'Hara officiated over the lighting of the gazebo. Lake Bluff Middle School students, under the direction of choral director Ann Cvitkovic, know fondly as Miss C, entertained the large assemblage of folk with songs of the season.
Lake Bluff Middle School students ended the celebration as they sang what has become a favorite of Lake Bluff Middle School students over the years, "Children Go Where I Send Thee."
As a former orchestra and choral music teacher, it delighted me that here in Lake Bluff and Lake Forest Christmas carols and Hanukkah songs can still be performed side by side, without attempts made to remove any reference to God or Jesus. There are schools in Lake County which no longer allow anything related to the religious nature of the Christmas season to enter the classrooms.
The Lake Forest/Lake Bluff Chamber of Commerce sponsors yearly Lake Forest's annual day-after-Thanksgiving tree lighting event and Lake Bluff's annual event held the Saturday after Lake Forest's tree lighting ceremony.