There are several communities in Downstate Illinois that really pride themselves on their Christmas cheer. Some towns go all out on decorations, while others focus on hosting some really BIG holiday events. One thing is for sure, once November hits – Southern Illinois is teeming with Christmas spirit. Read ahead to get some great ideas on everything from lighted parades to shopping events and everything in between.
The first Saturday in December is always a special time in downtown Columbia, because folks line Historic Main Street for the Bright Night Christmas Parade. The festivities start at 5 p.m. this year, and you can vote for your favorite float until 7. Stick around for more holiday cheer at Turner Hall’s Christmas Social, which usually involves food, beverages, and games for the children.
Mascoutah is another community in the Metro East that loves to celebrate the holiday season. The Chamber of Commerce in Mascoutah will host their 12th Annual Lighted Christmas Parade this year, which is usually held on the first Friday in December. It’s a very well attended parade as all businesses, civic groups, organizations, and individuals are invited to participate.
There’s a small community in southeastern Illinois that goes BIG on its holiday festivities. On December 10th at 8 a.m. the community of Albion will have the jolly man himself in attendance for Breakfast with Santa at the Albion Fire Station. Later that night, the fun really kicks in with the Lighted Christmas Parade, which is movie themed this year. After the parade, there will be a pajama party and Christmas movies shown at the Country Financial Hall at the Edwards County Fairgrounds.
Just ten minutes south of Albion lies Grayville, which plays host to its Annual Lighted Christmas Parade each year on the last Saturday of November. The parade usually starts at 6 p.m. but there are other activities such as open houses at local merchants, prize giveaways, and Santa himself doing a meet and greet with little ones.
Warehouse 300 in Trenton is a fantastic place where several talented vendors can sell different crafts and creations under the same roof. Their Mistletoe Market Days event is slated for November 16-20 and features five days of extended hours along with multiple giveaways. Want to find the perfect gifts and support local makers? This is the place to do it!
One of the longest running Holiday-themed shopping events in Downstate Illinois can be found in Flora at The Country Lamb. This year’s ‘Christmas in the Country’ event runs from December 10th - 24th. The Country Lamb is located in a big, red two-story farmhouse, and this event has been a staple since 1994. Enjoy complimentary coffee while you shop a wide array of everything from Christmas décor like locally made art featuring snowmen and Santa, to garland, and Christmas floral arrangements. The Country Lamb also has some clothing, jewelry, and gourmet foods to shop from, making this a great opportunity to make a dent in that Christmas list of yours.
Although the season for Vine Street Market at O’Fallon Station comes to an end in October, they will host a Winter Market on December 10th from 3:30 p.m. to 7:30 p.m. There will be about 50 local vendors offering up everything from breads and winter produce to artisan items and baked treats. On top of that, visitors can enjoy horse-drawn carriage rides which start at 4:30 p.m. We highly recommend being in O’Fallon for this one!
If you’re in southeastern Illinois this season, the Sainte Marie Christmas Farmers Market is slated for Saturday, November 26th from 10-6 at the Foundation House & Museum in Sainte Marie. Take home everything from handmade soaps and crafts to kettle corn and pork rinds! The community is hosting their Whoville event the same day, which features Whoville characters, wagon rides, and ice skating. Why not make the trip to Jasper County?
Our friends in Vandalia are traditionally the first to kick off the holiday season, and they do it in a big way with their Festival of Trees celebration on November 3rd. This year’s Olde Tyme Christmas gathering is set for November 11th-12th with the theme ‘All Hearts Come Home for Christmas.’ This is one of their largest events every year, and if you make the trip – you’ll see why. Olde Tyme Christmas starts with the Rotary Lighted Christmas Parade on the 11th at 5:30 p.m., with Santa and Mrs. Claus reading a Christmas story to the crowd at the State House following the parade. After that, there really is a ton going on at once. There will be food trucks, a craft fair, a train show, and Fashionista Avenue all open for shoppers. There will also be a USO show on the State House lawn at 6:30 p.m. The always popular Soroptimist Cookie Walk and the Art Connection will both be open at City Hall following the parade. Kids are certainly welcome, as visiting time with Santa runs from 6:30 p.m. to 8:45 p.m., there is a magic show at 6:30 p.m., and the FNB Community Bank Kids Corner is open all night following the parade as well. It all picks back up again on Saturday the 12th at 10 a.m. with a few things carried over from the night before – but some new activities for Saturday include Elf School, ice skating, and Do You Want to Build a Snowman from 11 a.m. – 1 p.m. at City Hall. You won't want to miss any of it!
In Crawford County, Robinson’s Christmas Magic Festival always draws folks from nearby communities and counties. It is slated for November 18th-19th this year with a lighted parade that welcomes Santa himself to town. Throw in ice skating, bonfires, a bounce house, and shopping – making this a holiday tradition that families do not want to miss.
Christmas in the Heart of Charleston is a decades-long tradition that usually makes its way to the city’s courthouse square on the first Saturday of December. It’s always free, even activities like roasting chestnuts and sipping on hot cocoa. Other highlights include live reindeer, Santa visits, and crafting stations for the kids. Shops around the square will also be open, offering special discounts and other deals. Live music is part of the celebration as well, usually put on by the Charleston High School.
Many of our communities look like they’re straight out of a Hallmark movie this time of year, but one in particular is especially breathtaking. Historic downtown Waterloo is always decorated well, and when you’re there it just gives you that feeling of ‘being home.’ Their Christmas on the Square event is a time-honored tradition that happens the Saturday and Sunday after Thanksgiving. Several merchants downtown participate in the event with stamp cards, there are carriage rides, visits with Santa, and much more!
One of the most unique holiday celebrations in our region can be found in Maeystown. Aptly named Old-Fashioned German Christmas, this is a one-day event on Sunday, December 4th this year. When you think German, this is it. Enjoy hammered dulcimer and strolling brass brand music alongside German and traditional carols. This event also features complimentary carriage rides throughout the village, photo ops in a Victorian horse sleigh, and traditional foods like weihnacht stew. Children can enjoy stories by Frau Kringle or make their own German crafts, while adults learn to fold German paper stars. Admission to Old-Fashioned Christmas is free, and you can experience it from 11 a.m. to 4:30 p.m.
Another community in southwestern Illinois with German ties is Millstadt, which plays host to Weihnachtsfest (Christmas Festival) on Sunday, December 4th from 10 a.m. to 5 in the evening. Have fun at their cookie walk, and enjoy traditional German fare like sauerbraten, schnitzel, red cabbage, potato pancakes, and strudel! The Waterloo German Band will provide musical entertainment as well.
On the third Thursday of November each year, the community of Pinckneyville comes together for Cracklin’ Christmas. It’s primarily an event for local businesses to decorate their shops and invite folks in for special deals. It kicks off at 4 p.m. and usually ends at 7:30 p.m. with the lighting of the community tree just north of the town square.
In Randolph County there are three communities that REALLY embrace the holidays. Both Chester and Prairie du Rocher were voted as River Travel Magazine’s ‘Best Holiday River Town’ in 2021 for their respective population brackets, while Red Bud placed second in their population group. Chester is celebrating their 34th Annual Christmas on the River Celebration in 2022, which is always a blast. We’re talking everything from a lighted Christmas parade to a Reindeer Games tournament, and even a family scavenger hunt. This year’s festivities are planned for December 2nd-4th. During this time of year, Red Bud turns into Santa’s Village with many different activities spread throughout the season. On November 20th there is a Christmas Walk from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m., five days later Red Bud hosts a lighted parade at 6 o’clock followed by a tree lighting ceremony. Make plans to visit Red Bud on December 11th for Sunday Funday as well! Meanwhile in Prairie du Rocher, the Winter Rendezvous at Fort de Chartres will attract hundreds of visitors to the area on November 5th and 6th. There will be re-enactments, a flintlock shooting contest, hand-made crafts, period music and more. Make plans to return to Prairie du Rocher on December 4th for La Fete de Noel, a day full of shopping, carriage rides, raffles, and home tours for adults as well as holiday craft creations and writing letters to Santa for the kiddos!
Blast back into time and picture yourself on a brick street watching a lamplighter stroll around town at dusk. Surprise…that scene actually exists in present day Lebanon! Their Victorian Holiday weekend is set for November 18-19, and kicks off with the Ole Lamplighter lighting up all of the storefronts on St. Louis Street. Add a visit from Father Christmas to the mix, as well as carolers, madrigals, and carriage rides – and you have quite the holiday celebration.
One of the more iconic holiday scenes in Downstate Illinois is the suspended Christmas tree that sits above Market Street in Mt. Carmel – once that is in place, you know Christmas is upon us. Their Christmas Uptown festival is truly a sight to behold, as visitors can partake in carriage rides, train rides, Rudolph (pony) rides, a gingerbread house competition, a game zone, caroling, stories with Mrs. Claus and a TON more. Admission is free, but there is a donation drive for toys and money that will go straight to their Operation Share program. Friday, December 2nd from 4 p.m. – 9 p.m. is the best time to make it to Mt. Carmel. In Washington County, Okawville has become known for its Christmas Stroll – which features a craft fair, a festival of trees, horse-drawn surrey rides, and museum tours among other activities on the first weekend of December.
Did you know that the second oldest continuously operating philharmonic orchestra can be found in Belleville? It’s true, and the Philharmonic Society of Belleville is always good for a few GREAT holiday-themed shows. This year they are putting together the Nutcracker Ballet on November 19th and 20th at Love Church. They are also performing ‘Christmas Wonders,’ a program of sacred and secular Holiday favorites on December 11th at St. Luke Catholic Church, and on December 18th the Philharmonic Society of Belleville presents the Holiday Pops Christmas Spectacular at the iconic Lincoln Theater downtown.
The Hettenhausen Center for the Arts on the campus of McKendree University in Lebanon is a beautiful venue for a show, and they always put on a great production during the holidays. This year’s show is Christmas Presence, featuring Terry Barber – a classically-trained countertenor with an extremely broad range and versatile voice. Barber breathes new life into beloved Christmas songs and world-favorites. Put this one on your calendar for Wednesday, December 14th at 7 p.m.
Another great place to catch a show is the historic Avon Theater in Breese, home of the Clinton County Showcase. If you’re a fan of comedy, this year’s production of Inspecting Carol is right up your alley. It’s a mix of ‘A Christmas Carol’ meets ‘The Government Inspector’ meets ‘Noises Off’ – and it’s absolutely hilarious. Shows are slated for December 2nd-4th as well as the 9th-11th
This article comes from the 2022 edition of the Holiday Tourism Times. To request your free guide to seasonal fun, visit our Tourism Times page.