Holidays in Peoria

Poinsettia Show
November 16-December 31

This year’s Poinsettia Show runs from the weekend before Thanksgiving until the end of December. While open Sundays from 12 to 5pm and Tuesdays through Saturdays from 10am to 5pm, Luthy Botanical Garden will feature candlelight walks from 7 to 9pm on Fridays and Saturdays. Take a trip over to the Conservatory at the Luthy Botanical Garden to enjoy candlelit walks and live entertainment. Over 200 poinsettias of different varieties and several Christmas trees will display this year’s floral theme. Themed trees will include “Holiday Spirit,” “Southwest,” “Walden Pond” and more! This popular Peoria event has been a tradition since 1951 and is always free and open to the public.

Yule Like Peoria
November 23

Prior to 1966, the holiday lights of downtown Peoria were turned on by Saint Nick himself at the end of the Santa Claus Parade, marking the beginning of the holiday season and festivities to come. Today, the lights are turned on later that same day at the annual Yule Like Peoria Walk-A-Bout.

The Yule Like Peoria Walk-A-Bout is back again this year in downtown Peoria. Commercial buildings in the heart of the city will offer entertainment ranging from choirs to magic acts to dancing, along with refreshments at many of the stops. A balloon artist will also make an appearance! This year, the Walk-A-Bout will feature an ice carving contest at the Peoria Courthouse Plaza, where local chefs will compete to create the best ice sculpture. The Walk-A-Bout will take place from 6 to 9pm.

Santa Claus Parade
November 23

This year Peoria will celebrate the 120th annual Santa Claus Parade, the nation’s longest-running holiday parade. The festive tradition began in 1887 to celebrate the construction of the Upper Free Bridge, located near the site of the present-day McCluggage Bridge over the Illinois River. Today, the west side pier is the only part of the bridge left standing.

The boats and derricks included in that first parade sailed down the Illinois River from Chillicothe. The following year, in 1888, the parade was held on land and wound through downtown Peoria. The Santa Parade, marking the beginning of the holiday season, was such a hit that it continues today—more than a century later!

This year’s parade will feature costumed characters, novelty units, floats, marching bands and, of course, the man himself, Santa Claus! Some of the original floats include the Conestoga Wagon and the Old Woman in the Shoe. Awards will be given to float and band contest winners. The parade lasts from 10am to noon in downtown Peoria.

Festival of Lights
November 24-December 31

A small wooden soldier named FOLEPI—his name is an acronym for Festival of Lights, East Peoria, Illinois—is the mascot for this grand holiday fete in East Peoria. 2007 marks the 23rd anniversary of the nationally renowned festival, which draws more than 100,000 visitors each year to its impressive display of millions of tiny bulbs. The attraction was recently voted one of the Top 100 Events in North America by the American Bus Association.

The main attraction is the two-mile long Winter Wonderland driving tour of larger-than-life objects fashioned out of tiny colored lights. Revelers can visit the festival after dark from November 25th through the last day of December. On November 24th, many of the displays are driven through town for the Parade of Lights kickoff, featuring more than 40 floats fashioned entirely from electric lights. Floats include a 70-foot-long replica of Clydesdale horses pulling a wagon, the Starship Enterprise—consisting of 48,000 lights!—and a 95-foot-long smoking China dragon. The parade ends with a bang as fireworks light up the evening sky.

Such an extensive introduction is entirely appropriate for the smorgasbord of holiday-themed events which comprise the festival. These include FOLEPI’s Village, where Santa resides; FOLEPI’s Riverfront Promenade, a walking tour of lighted displays along the riverfront; an indoor laser light show featuring holiday music and graphics; and a 24-hour narrated Nativity scene. Hot air balloon rides, a community sing-a-long, lunch with Santa, a run/walk and the Festival of Lights Queen Pageant are among the other events.

Holiday Cruises on the Spirit
November 24, December 1,7,8,15

The Spirit of Peoria offers holiday cruises on the scenic Illinois River in November and December. A special dinner cruise with the FOLEPI Queen will take place on December 8th. Each two-hour dinner and matinee cruise will feature a homemade buffet and musical entertainment by River Christmas. This family-friendly show features festive, toe-tapping hits of the season along with traditional favorites and a good dose of holiday cheer for all.

Gary and Connie Nabors of River Christmas have been performing together for 35 years, adding their children to the mix in the last 14 years. Gary, owner of Songcrafters recording studio in East Peoria, has helped compose hundreds of songs and has performed with musicians such as Dolly Parton and the Statler Brothers.

Candlelight Tours
November 30-December 9

The Pettengill-Morron House has been offering candlelight Christmas tours since 1973, the Flanagan House since 1994. This year, gather at the Pettengill-Morron House for a Victorian Christmas wedding and stroll through this historic Victorian mansion decorated for the holidays. Meet Louisa May Alcott at the Flanagan House as she brings Little Women to life. Also join in as the March children give their father a special Christmas welcome as he returns from the Civil War.

Critter Christmas
December 1

Santa will appear at the Peoria Zoo from 9 to 11am to give special gifts to the animals—mealworms for the meerkats, mice for the kookaburras and much more! Talk with Santa and watch critters receive their favorite treats!

Jinglin' Jazz
December 6

Luthy Botanical Garden will host its annual Jinglin’ Jazz festival from 6:30 to 9pm. This ticketed event featuring the Joe Metzka Jazz Trio will entertain guests as they revel in the holiday feel of the Poinsettia Show and enjoy hors d’oeuvres and specialty wines. The silent auction is a great way to get one-of-a-kind items for the special people on your list.

A Holiday Extravaganza
December 7-8

The Peoria Pops Orchestra, under the direction of Peoria Christian School’s Musical Conductor James Walker, will perform A Holiday Extravaganza. The concert will take place at Peoria Christian School at 7:30pm.

Holiday Shop & Stroll
December 7, 14, 15, 21

The Forest Park Nature Center will host its annual Holiday Shop and Stroll from 9am to 5pm. All ages are welcome.

A Christmas Concert
December 8

The Forest Park Nature Center will host “Tom and Chris Kastle: A Christmas Concert” at 7pm. The Kastles are musicians and storytellers who have performed throughout the United States and around the world. The concert will feature songs and stories about Christmas traditions of maritime provinces throughout the world.

December 8-9

“From November until January, nutcrackers, some even bigger than life-size, are displayed everywhere from Sam’s Club to Neiman Marcus, which makes you wonder why we love this strange wooden soldier so much,” notes Peoria Ballet’s Artistic Director Erich Yetter.

Today, there are more than 250 Nutcracker performances nationwide, from small and simple to huge and elaborate, each telling the same story of evil transformation, spells, dangerous battles and magical creatures. Premiering in 1892, this ballet was choreographed by Lev Ivanov and thought to be a “charming confection.” It became a holiday tradition in the States in 1954, when George Balanchine choreographed a version for the New York City Ballet.

“Each production is unique to its location, vision and resources, and Peoria Ballet’s is no exception,” Yetter said. Each year, he adds new twists to the familiar production. This year, Peoria’s version will feature new costumes and a larger cast than ever before, with more than 150 dancers, actors, musicians, singers, tumblers and even a dog, ranging in age from six to 60.

According to the Peoria Civic Center Authority, Nutcracker is the highest-attended holiday event outside of East Peoria’s Festival of Lights. For this year’s times and ticket prices, visit

Community Hanukkah Party
December 9

The Peoria Hebrew Day School will host a Hanukkah party at the Anshai Emeth Temple. There will be a community menorah lighting, traditional kosher food, singing, games and a short performance by children of the Hebrew Day School of Peoria. There will also be a raffle to raise funds for the school.

An American Family Christmas
December 14-16

The Peoria Area Civic Chorale will host its annual Christmas performance at the Civic Center Theater. This year’s An American Family Christmas will feature 92 singers and musicians under the direction of Dr. Joseph D. Henry in this, their 25th year of performing. You can look forward to favorite Christmas carols, such as Winter Wonderland, Magnificat and Handel’s Messiah, as well as a fabulous light display, as usual!

Kwanzaa Display
December 26-31

The last week of December, Luthy Botanical Garden will feature a Kwanzaa display in the conservatory. This non-religious celebration of family, community and culture has been celebrated annually since its formation by Dr. Maulana Karenga, a professor in the Department of Black Studies at California State University, in 1966. The holiday is meant as a means for reaffirming and restoring the African culture and values in all people of African descent. The origins of Kwanzaa date back to ancient Egypt’s harvest celebrations called matunda ya kwanzaa, meaning “first fruits,” from which it takes its name.  a&s