BLOOMINGTON — Families enjoyed old traditions and formed new ones Saturday as several events officially kicked off the holiday season in Bloomington-Normal.
Flowing along Center Street from Normal to downtown Bloomington, the 88th annual Jaycees Christmas Parade included marching bands, candy and floats representing businesses, churches and organizations.
Janet and David Seng of Bloomington stood with their wide-eyed son Everett, 2, who pointed at approaching police cars and fire trucks.
“We’re experiencing a lot of firsts for him every year,” said David Seng.
“We’re able to relive some of our childhood memories through his new experiences,” said Janet Seng.
Angie Peterson of Bloomington recently moved to be closer to her grandchildren. She watched her grandsons, Michael, 5, and Robert, 6, scramble to pick up candy and as they were awed by the big trucks.
“I love everything about Christmas. For the first time I’m able to enjoy it through their eyes,” said Peterson.
As a cluster of motorcycles roared down the route, a white-bearded biker stopped and handed a stuffed reindeer toy to Malia Francis, 2.
From her dad’s arms, Malia waved and shouted “Merry Christmas” in a tiny voice.
“Her mom is out of town shopping for Christmas so I figured we’d get out to the parade, look at Christmas lights and decorate some cookies. It’s all about building traditions,” said her dad, Jason Francis of Bloomington.
One group of parade participants were celebrating for a different reason. The McLean County Association for Home and Community Education waved from a float boasting 100 years of community service and home enrichment.
“We wanted to show the community we’re 100 years old and we do a variety of things for families. We’re doing lots of parades this year in honor of the anniversary. We hope people will find us and join in,” said group president Kathryn McNeely.
The cameo of the parade, Santa Claus, waved from the bucket of a Bloomington fire truck as kids on sidewalks stood on tiptoe to catch a glimpse.
After the parade, Santa hopped down from the truck with Mrs. Claus and they retreated into the McLean County Museum of History, 200 N. Main St., to meet with a long line of eager children.
First in line were Kristen and Joey Durbin with their children, cousin and foster child.
“It makes them really excited to see Santa and get ready for Christmas,” said Kristen Durbin.
Crunching on a candy cane, Sophie Durbin, 4, said St. Nick asked if she had been a good girl.
“I said I was. I asked him for Shopkins for Christmas,” said Sophie.
Holiday activities in the museum included crafts, games, snacks, live music and a model train set.
Across town, another line of good boys and girls formed outside Santa’s Station in uptown Normal. Mr. and Mrs. Claus and several elves greeted children inside a festive cottage set between the Children's Discovery Museum and Uptown Station.
Santa’s Station is open Friday through Sunday until Christmas weekend. For a complete schedule, visit www.uptownnormal.com. Carriage rides are also available.
After some hot chocolate and visits with elves, Marianne Taylor of Bloomington and Miranda Gonzalez of Hudson let their kids race around the grass at Uptown Circle.
“For our traditions, we get presents, put up the tree, have fun and play football outside,” said Cade Gonzales, 9.
Especially “choo choo trains!” he said, throwing his hands in the air.