Geneva has long enjoyed a reputation for its festivals, and the annual Christmas Walk and House Tour in December is, by far, the most festive time of them all.
Excluding last year’s pandemic-hindered event, roughly 10,000 people annually flock to Geneva for the official start of the Christmas season. This year’s festivities take place Friday, Dec. 3.
“Seeing people happy and knowing we’re the kickoff to most people’s holiday is a great feeling,” says Laura Rush, communications manager for the Geneva Chamber of Commerce. “There are carolers, lights – there’s just excitement, fun, energy. You feel it. Everyone is just full of happiness and spirit.”
Ever since the Chamber started this celebration in 1946, it’s been a highly anticipated event that evolves each year.
As is tradition, the Candy Cane Parade steps off at 5:45 p.m. Friday with a parade of sweets lovers trekking from Graham’s 318 Coffee House to the Third Street stage in front of the courthouse to present Mayor Kevin Burns with the first candy cane of the season.
This year, the march has been dubbed Bob’s Candy Cane Parade in honor of Bob Untiedt, founder of Graham’s Fine Chocolates and Ice Cream as well as Graham’s 318 Coffee House. Untiedt died in March after battling cancer.
Decades ago, Untiedt debuted the parade in combination with an old-fashioned candy cane pull at his shop.
As is tradition, when the candy cane is delivered Santa Lucia (a Swedish tradition) arrives and her attendants pass out Swedish cookies to visitors. Burns and Santa Lucia will light the large Christmas tree on the courthouse lawn, and then Santa Claus arrives.
Bill Otter has played Santa since 2019. “I’ve been super excited about it,” he says. “Santa has been part of the Christmas Walk forever, and Christmas Walk has continued to expand to be an amazing event.”
All of these festivities typically play out between 6 and 6:30 p.m., Rush says. But there’s plenty more to enjoy the rest of Friday night and into Saturday.
Visits with Santa are available at the courthouse lawn until about 9:30 p.m. Friday. Santa also is available in his new Winter Wonderland in the Geneva Visitors Center, 10 S. Third St., on Saturdays and Sundays throughout December.
To keep Santa and his friends safe, visits will be by appointment only – but reservation time slots (available on the Chamber website) are every 5 minutes. Kids can also send Santa a letter.
Another highlight of the Christmas Walk is the special holiday shopping in downtown Geneva. Locally owned stores offer giveaways, bargains and surprises.
The Holiday House Tour is a ticketed event that usually sells out. It allows patrons to visit five professionally decorated homes on a self-guided tour either Friday, Dec. 3, or Saturday, Dec. 4.
One stop on this year’s tour is a 1960s-inspired home, and the decorators plan to use complementing decor – think vintage aluminum Christmas trees.
“Anything showcased in the house tour sells out pretty quickly, which is great for the shop that provided those pieces,” Rush says.
Holiday House Tour tickets are ordered not just by locals, but from people all around the U.S., including Texas and California, Rush says.
The Holiday House Tour also is a huge fundraiser for the Geneva Chamber of Commerce and its efforts to supply holiday decorations for the city.
Holiday House Tour tickets cost $35 and are available online or by calling (630) 232-6060.
For those who can’t make it to the Christmas Walk or can’t get enough Christmas cheer in just one weekend, the Chamber now hosts a second weekend of festivities.
Geneva’s second annual Cocoa Crawl takes place Saturday, Dec. 11, allowing patrons to visit local shops and try hot chocolate, coffee and tea offerings. The Chamber put together this event last year to inspire more Christmas spirit, and it quickly sold out.
Harvey’s Tales, a local bookshop, will participate this year, because its owners believe the Crawl channels the same spirit as the Christmas Walk.
“It’s another fun event that provides so much joy to the people you come in contact with,” says Roxanne Osborne, who owns the shop with her husband, Chuck,.
“We’re all trying to gear up to make this a really big year,” she adds. “I’m increasing how much I’m lighting the building just to make it look festive and welcome everybody back and bring a bit more cheer as we struggle through this ongoing pandemic. Everyone is so excited, and there’s just a sense of community.” ❚
For information or House Walk tickets, contact Geneva Chamber of Commerce, 8 S. Third St., Geneva, (630) 232-6060, genevachamber.com.