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NORMAL — No child is too old or too young to find something magical in uptown Normal this holiday season. Whether you’re waiting to meet Santa or old friends for a year-end celebration, uptown and its now iconic holiday lights set the scene for shopping, celebration and play.

“There’s a magic in meeting Santa or taking a carriage ride under the uptown holiday lights or ducking into the incredible shops decked out for the season that transcends any specific age group,” said Adam Fox, town of Normal civic arts manager.

The season starts with Saturday's Holiday Open House. Santa and Mrs. Claus will visit uptown businesses, taking pictures and spreading cheer while holiday choirs fill the air with festive music. Shops are featuring seasonal sales and free carriage rides are available.

New this year is a reservation system that allows riders to continue to shop, eat or stay warm indoors. Time slots will fill up fast and riders must sign up in person. Free carriage rides also will be available throughout the month of December in conjunction with Santa’s Station on the Mark R. Peterson Plaza.

New exhibit blows into town

As Thanksgiving wraps up, the Children’s Discovery Museum will unveil its new exhibit, ImagineAir, on Black Friday with a ribbon cutting, wind-inspired activities, and commemorative giveaways.

ImagineAir will introduce children to concepts related to wind energy, aerodynamics and fluid dynamics. Grand opening activities are from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Nov. 23. Admission is $7 per person ages 2 and above, $3 for Museums for All members, and free for Children's Discovery Museum (CDM) members.

Parents and grandparents also can get a head start on holiday educational gifts as the museum offers Member Appreciation Weekend Nov. 15-18. Museum members will receive 20 percent off all purchases in the Museum Store. Buy a membership for yourself or a gift and receive $20 off when you join, renew or gift a Plus or Grandparent Membership. For a complete list of holiday events, such as Jammies & Jingles and Noon Year’s Eve, visit childrensdiscoverymuseum.net.

Small Business Saturday returns that same weekend on Nov. 24. Uptown businesses will offer a variety of sales and specials as a thank-you to the loyal customers who shop small all year long. And then the big man himself arrives in uptown for his annual residency.

Santa’s Station opens Dec. 1 in the plaza between Uptown Station and the CDM. Santa’s arrival is marked by a procession through uptown, kicking off from the Alamo II at 12:30 p.m. with free treats for everyone in attendance.

“Santa’s Station is an opportunity for families to meet Santa and Mrs. Claus throughout the month of December,” said Fox. “New musical entertainment will be provided during station hours this year, along with some other surprises and events. Families queue up in Uptown Station, so time spent out in the elements is kept to a minimum.”

Uptown Partners is the primary sponsor of Santa’s Station with the Bloomington-Normal branch of the NAACP sponsoring several hours throughout the operation this year.

A visit to Santa’s Station for photos is free, but donations are encouraged for local groups such as Special Olympics Illinois. Parents can bring their own cameras and take photos. Santa will stay through Dec. 23 when he prepares for his annual sleigh ride around the world. But before he goes, even Santa makes time for holiday film traditions at the Normal Theater.

“Holiday favorites, including "Miracle on 34th Street, "It’s a Wonderful Life," many more will return for their annual runs at the Normal Theater,” adds Fox. “Uptown Normal really is a unique destination, and all these events are built with the community first and foremost in our minds.”

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Whisman is director of Cultural Arts for the Town of Normal.

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