The holiday season is a busy one in McHenry County, Ill., and each year, Chicagoland families head here to fulfill cherished rituals. Charming villages sparkling with Christmas lights host tree lighting ceremonies, live musical performances, holiday festivals and special events, providing the perfect backdrop for Yuletide traditions. Following is your guide to goings-on around the county from Thanksgiving Eve to New Year’s Eve. Be sure to check websites for times and directions before heading out.
It’s A Wonderful Life, A live Radio Play, November 24-26 December 1-3 at Woodstock Opera House: This beloved American holiday classic comes to life as a live 1940’s radio broadcast. With the help of sound effect technicians, a stage manager, and an ensemble of actors, the story of idealistic George Bailey unfolds as he considers ending his life one fateful Christmas Eve. woodstockoperahouse.com
Holiday Pops Concert, December 8 at The Raue Center for the Arts, Crystal Lake: The Northwest Symphony Orchestra returns to the Raue Center for this beloved holiday tradition with a festive combination of contemporary and classic hits. rauecenter.org
7th Annual Christmas Concert Series, December 8-10 at Sanfilippo Estate’s Place de la Musique in Barrington Hills: Organist Dave Wickerham on the 8,000-pipe Sanfilippo “Mighty Wurlitzer” Theater organ will enchant you in this magnificent home and museum which houses the world’s largest collection of fully restored automatic musical instruments. Choose from a Friday evening concert and tour, a Saturday concert with cocktails and dinner, or a Sunday concert with brunch. Reservations are required at placedelamusique.org.
The Nutcracker Ballet, December 8-17 at Woodstock Opera House: Enjoy the magic of the holiday season as the Judith Svalander Dance Theatre transforms the Opera House stage into a realm of fantasy. Thrill to Clara’s magical and enchanting journey as Tchaikovsky’s world-renowned music is brought to life once again in this seasonal classic. woodstockoperahouse.com
Voices in Harmony’s Sing-Along Messiah, December 10 at The Raue Center for the Arts in Crystal Lake: Handel’s well-known Baroque masterpiece is presented with a 25-piece orchestra, excellent soloists and projections of beautiful calligraphy by Timothy Botts.
The McHenry County College Chorus will supplement Voices In Harmony onstage. Join your voice with the chorus, or just listen and be uplifted in this beautiful community-based performance. rauecenter.org.
Berkshire Ballet Theatre’s The Nutcracker Ballet, December 16 17 at The Raue Center for the Arts in Crystal Lake: Join Clara on her daring adventure with the Nutcracker Prince through The Land of Snow and The Land of Sweets. March along with the toy soldiers, bravely battle the Mouse King and embrace the beauty of dancing snowflakes in this lavishly costumed production set to Tchaikovsky’s unforgettable music. rauecenter.org
Ed Hall’s21st Annual Woodstock Christmas Guitar Night, December 23 at Woodstock Opera House: William Tell Productions presents five internationally acclaimed guitar champions with dazzling arrangements of holiday music, plus other popular and classical guitar favorites. woodstockoperahouse.com
Home for the Holidays, December 22-30 at The Raue Center for the Arts in Crystal Lake: Celebrate the spirit of the season with the Raue Center and Williams Street Repertory in this fun, family-friendly and festive show. Reminisce with WSRep ensemble members, the WSRep comedy troupe and other local favorites in this home-grown holiday special. rauecenter.org
A Rockin’ New Year’s Eve, December 31 at The Raue Center for the Arts in Crystal Lake: Join your host Jimmy Nick and his band Don’t Tell Mama, for an amazing night of rock ‘n’ roll, high-energy blues and stage theatrics. Jimmy Nick is an old fashioned, guitar-slinging blues prodigy who was developing his chops in famous Chicago clubs when he was only sixteen. His experience playing at these venues combined with his boundless energy and stage presence, has established him as a force that is taking the Chicago club and blues scene by storm! rauecenter.org
33rd Annual Christmas Walk, Tree Lighting Parade,November 18 19in downtown McHenry: Saturday — Bring the family to shop, sample and play the afternoon away. Specials and events in stores, characters, games, treats, trolley rides and visits with Santa! End the day with caroling and the tree lighting in Veteran’s Park; Sunday – More store events and specials, plus Gala Christmas Parade. mchenrydowntown.biz/events
35th Annual Turkey Testicle Festival,November 22, Downtown Huntley: Parkside Pub jump-starts Thanksgiving weekend when it deep-fries more than 1,200 lbs. of these tasty little nuggets the night before Turkey Day, and serves them up with other pub fare accompanied by non-stop music by 7th Heaven, Modern Day Romeos and Lava Rock from 1 p.m. to midnight. parksidepub.com/ttf
Festival of Lights Parade, November 24 in downtown Crystal Lake. Santa arrives at this annual nighttime gala filled with lights, music, pageantry, and holiday magic in a downtown lit with thousands of glittering white lights. This year’s theme, A Candy Cane Christmas, includes more than 50 colorful parade units, floats, bands and treats for the kids. downtowncl.org
The Lighting of the Square, November 24, Woodstock Square: The Lighting of the Square the night after Thanksgiving opens Woodstock’s annual holiday celebration with carols, refreshments and thousands of twinkling lights in Historic Woodstock Square. Visit Santa and Mrs. Claus in their house on the Square and stop by the Old Courthouse for a walk through a candy land of gingerbread houses. Santa and Mrs. Claus also ride in the Christmas Parade around the square on November 26. Then, carolers and musicians stroll the streets; shops and restaurants are open late throughout the city; visitors can take free horse-drawn carriage rides on selected days and enjoy the Woodstock Opera House Christmas Tree Walk until Christmas. woodstockil.gov
Happy Holiday Railway, November 25-December 17 at the Illinois Railway Museum in Union: All aboard this magical train ride through the winter countryside to visit Santa and his elves in the Toy Workshop. He’ll have gifts in his sack for boys and girls on his “good” list and warm treats will be served. Reservations required at irm.org.
Christmas at the Dole, December 1 2at Lakeside Legacy Arts Park in Crystal Lake: Friday: Enjoy wonderful featured art, chances to meet and mingle with artists, and the opportunity to purchase original artwork in a special winter-themed 1st Friday Art Show that’s fun for the whole family . Included will be photo ops with Santa Claus , magnificently-decorated Christmas trees, live entertainment, refreshments, and an outdoor tree lighting ceremony. Saturday: Lakeside Arts Park transforms into a “Holiday Extravaganza” with indoor and outdoor activities, including ice sculptures and “ice games” for kids, a holiday bazaar and photo ops with Santa. Visitors can drink hot chocolate, make s’mores around a campfire, take pictures with Santa. lakesideartspark.org
Christmas of Yesteryear, December 1-3 in Stevens Park, Memorial Hall and throughout downtown Richmond: This charming Victorian village welcomes the holidays with a nod to Christmas past. Santa arrives at the tree lighting Friday evening, and stays to hear youngsters’ Christmas wishes. Over the weekend, enjoy wagon rides, carolers, treats in the shops, cookie walk and craft fair. richmond-il.com
Holiday Rock on the Fox, December 2 in Algonquin: Welcome the holidays in Riverfront Park with a community tree lighting, candy cane hunt, Santa’s arrival, holiday music and more. algonquin.org/recreation
Holiday Open House Quilt Show, December 2 at the McHenry County Historical Society Museum in Union: All quilt-makers, regardless of experience, are invited to join in the Rock Around Holiday Quilt Contest Show. Winners in each category will receive ribbons. View unique historic display of aluminum Christmas trees. Enjoy holiday music, homemade cookies, browse the bake sale and search for unique gifts in the museum store. mchenrycountyhistory.org
Perfect Holiday Appetizers, A Hands-on Class, December 2 at Loyola University Chicago Retreat and Ecology Campus in Woodstock. Hosting a holiday party? In this class, you’ll receive tips, ideas, techniques, and recipes to help make perfect appetizers at home. luc.edu/retreatcampus
26th Annual Marengo Union Holiday Housewalk Craft Fair, December 2 3: Tackle your Christmas shopping at this juried show taking place in decorated homes and community facilities throughout Marengo and Union Townships. Choose from handcrafted items, decorated antiques and primitives and holiday decor. Donations of non-perishable food items for the local food pantry are accepted at each stop. holidayhousewalk.com
Merry Cary Holiday Parade Festival, December 3 in downtown Cary: The biggest community event of the year features a festive parade, Santa, pony rides, petting zoo, games, live music, treats and more. www.carygrovechamber.com
Holiday Cookie Workshop, A Hands-on Class. December 16, Loyola University Chicago Retreat and Ecology Campus, Woodstock. It’s time to bake holiday cookies for giving and enjoying throughout the season. In this class, you’ll learn to make an assortment of festive holiday cookies, and you’ll finish the afternoon with an old-fashioned cookie swap to take home to share. Lots of sampling accompanied with coffee, wine and a bit o’ bubbly. www.luc.edu/retreatcampus
Christmas shopping in McHenry County is more than strip malls and big box stores. Stroll quaint villages decked out in evergreen garlands and sparkling lights. Visit interesting and intriguing shops in Woodstock’s 1890’s town square and Richmond’s Victorian downtown. Find unique gifts in downtown Crystal Lake boutiques, and along McHenry’s Riverwalk.
GET AWAY TO McHENRY COUNTY
McHenry County is just a 60-minute drive northwest of Chicago, bordered on the north by Wisconsin, and on the south by I-90. The Fox River winds down from the Chain of Lakes through the towns on the eastern side of the county, while country roads meander the western side. For visitor information, lodging and dining options throughout McHenry County, go to visitmchenrycounty.com, e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org, or call 815-893-6280. Follow on Instagram and Facebook @visitmchenrycounty. For a free digital McHenry County 2017/2018 Insiders Guide, click here visitmchenrycounty.com/Request-Information.