Traditional and more modern activities can both help to shape holiday memories. This year, the Old Town Holiday Festival will offer a range of activities for people of different ages and interests.
In its 32nd year, the festival will take place in Old Town Peoria from 5 to 10 p.m. on Saturday, Dec. 14.
This year, the holiday festival has grown with the inclusion of Second Saturdays, which is regularly held every second Saturday of the month from October through May. The two events coming together means there will be more live music and arts activities for attendees.
Marylou Stephens, arts and events manager for the city of Peoria, says Second Saturdays is helping to bring a whole new vibe to the area and will add an extra element to the holiday festival.
“We are melding the history and tradition of the Old-Time Holiday Festival, wonderfully steeped history of 32 years, with the new and exciting vibe of Second Saturdays,” Stephens said.
The festival will have three stages of live entertainment, a Christmas tree lighting at Johnny E. Osuna Memorial Park at 7:15 p.m., inflatables and craft activities for kids, strolling high school choirs, pictures with Santa, a vendor market, a gingerbread house display, food trucks and a pop-up restaurant.
“You can certainly come to the festival to get into the holiday spirit, but if that’s not your thing, you can be on the other end, hearing great acoustic guitar playing,” Stephens said.
The stages will offer something different. One will be focused on holiday music and dance troupes; another, on acoustic music and the other, on local bands.
Stephens says the expansion of the festival allows for a greater spotlight on local musicians, dance groups and bands. “I think we have some pretty incredible talent locally. They are getting all kinds of opportunities in Phoenix and the East Valley, and we need to start giving them opportunities over here,” Stephens said.
Many of the bands taking part in the December event have done Second Saturdays before.
The vendor area has grown to around 100 vendors, many of which sell one-of-a-kind arts and crafts items such as hand-knitted scarves. A number of vendors will have specialty holiday items such as Christmas ornaments. In recent years, more have begun to sell fandom items for sci-fi, fantasy and comic book fans.
Along with food trucks serving different types of cuisine, the festival will offer a chef-driven pop-up restaurant with a Caribbean-themed menu from Chef Nigel Salandy. There will be menus for both children and adults. The adult menu includes an appetizer, main course and dessert.
For the second year, the festival will have lighted elements in Johnny E. Osuna Memorial Park. Last year, the lighted decorations were popular for family photos.
For the gingerbread competition, individuals and groups created elaborate gingerbread houses for the chance to win special first, second or third place awards in different categories.
The top large and mini houses will receive grand prizes.
The gingerbread houses will be judged on Dec. 12 and will be on display at the Peoria Community Center through Dec. 27.
During the festival, attendees will have a chance to celebrate the holidays in an area filled with history.
In Old Town Peoria, many of the buildings have long histories and have been used for different purposes over the years. Visitors will have a chance to see and go inside some of these buildings.
A number of local businesses, including Iron Key Studio and the Grand Project Shoppe, will offer different art activities during the December festival.
Iron Key Studio will have live painting, temporary tattoo for kids and a community splatter painting activity during the festival.
The gallery will also host a reception for its new portraits and landscapes-focused exhibition, which will have a combination of emerging and resident artists. A tattoo parlor and co-op art gallery with artist studios, Iron Key just opened last November.
The artists who work out of the studios have at least 15 years of experience and work in different mediums.
Being part of the festival and keeping a community-centered focus is important for local business owners such as Iron Key co-owner Melissa Zimmer.
Zimmer said she and her husband want to help continue the traditions started by the merchants who first organized the holiday festival. His family moved to the area in the 1800s and owned blacksmith and hardware shops in Peoria. As a kid, he helped to hand out cocoa and candy canes at the holiday festival.
Iron Key is helping to preserve some of this history by displaying photos from the area’s past as well as collecting oral histories and mementos.
“There’s a lot of history to it all and we’re trying to bring it back in full swing,” Zimmer said.
During the upcoming event, Grand Project Shoppe will have an ornament-making activity, live painting, complimentary cocoa and apple cider and live music. The shop will also operate a booth inside the holiday market.
The storefront and gathering place offers unique items from artists and makers as well as a studio space for classes and a workshop for artists. The space opened at the end of the summer. Tracey Bentley, co-owner of the space and an interior designer, said being part of a growing art scene appealed to her and her business partner from the start.
“We are really excited about what is in store with all of the planning going into the restoration and art-forward movement,” Bentley said.
She has found Old Town Peoria to be a welcoming community.
“I feel very supported by all the businesses around, and there is just a real neighborhood feel,” Bentley said.
Old Town Holiday Festival featuring Second Saturdays
5 to 10 p.m. Saturday, December 14.
South of Peoria and Grand Avenues, Old Town Peoria
Free admission, $5 for Santa pictures and activity wristbands, $7 for children for pop-up restaurant and $30 for adults.