Horse-drawn carriages parade down the street, lined with families eagerly awaiting Santa’s arrival in the town’s firetruck. The Christmas tree in historic downtown West Chicago is lit as carolers serenade in front of local businesses. A dance troupe and mariachi band perform. Winter hats and gloves are donated and distributed to help keep neighbors warm.
After being put on hold last year due to the COVID-19 pandemic, holiday events like Frosty Fest in suburban West Chicago returned this year, bringing the community together to celebrate cultural traditions and the season of giving.
“Frosty Fest is an annual community event that brings together traditions and organizations to celebrate the winter and holiday season,” said Joie Frankovich, coordinator of partnerships for the West Chicago Elementary School District 33 and WeGo Together for Kids. “Over the years, it has become a great opportunity to highlight West Chicago students through their writing and artwork. District 33’s Ballet Folklorico and mariachi band perform, continuing to lift up WeGo’s rich Latinx culture.”
As we close out 2021 and anticipate what may come in 2022, we remain hopeful. All throughout the city and suburban region—no matter the circumstances—people have found ways to connect and support each other, to celebrate diverse cultural traditions and our shared humanity, from tree and Menorah lightings to parades and winter markets.
Auburn Gresham on the south side of Chicago transformed into a Winter Wonderland earlier this month. Hosted by the Greater Auburn-Gresham Development Corporation (GAGDC), the event “was created to bring the community together for the holidays, spreading love and the Christmas spirit for all,” said Khayeem Anderson, program manager for GAGDC.
“It provides a safe outdoor experience for the whole family to enjoy the company of Santa, gift bags, a community tree lighting, trolley rides, hot cocoa, festive Christmas songs and a cozy atmosphere,” Khayeem continued. “It serves as a glimpse into this community, while serving as an example of how to peacefully come together.”
On the north side, our partners at the Jewish United Fund of Chicago (JUF) honored Chanukah earlier this month at a beloved Chicago institution: ZooLights at Lincoln Park Zoo. More than 1,000 families celebrated the Festival of Lights “under the glow of the park’s ZooLights, with families enjoying live Chanukah music, festive food and a special Menorah lighting with JUF President Lonnie Nasatir,” said Elizabeth Abrams, assistant vice president of communications for JUF.
The community gardens in the 600 block of North Lorel Street are aglow with their own lights festival. In Austin on the west side of Chicago, Austin Coming Together (ACT) and the neighborhood’s block club hosted Christmas Around the World earlier this month, distributing toys and coats to families while lighting a colorful display of trees inspired by different cultures and traditions.
“The most important part is we try to bring together every culture in our community and embrace them,” said Dollie Sherman, engagement specialist for ACT. “We are all in this together, and each year we add different trees, showcasing their cultures. It is about bringing people together and being aware of who’s your neighbor.”
The Christmas Around the World block party was one of many events in the Chicago region that encouraged neighbors to safely gather while serving their community. The spirit of giving has not wavered throughout the pandemic. From toy drives to clothing and food assistance, our community partners are helping meet families’ basic needs while bringing extra holiday cheer.
“We provided holiday gifts and warm winter clothing to 1,000 children and adults of Brighton Park,” said Sara Reschly, director of community partnerships for the Brighton Park Neighborhood Council. “The pandemic has hit Brighton Park families hard, and many families are struggling to meet their children’s basic needs. Providing holiday gifts and warm winter clothing spreads hope and joy and lets our children know that the community cares about them.”
Young professionals with the Chinese Mutual Aid Association’s (CMAA) Associate Board collected toys for families in Uptown and hosted a gift-wrapping party earlier this month.
“All of the toys were given as gifts to our youth department participants,” said Alissa Exner, senior development coordinator for CMAA. “Our youth department provides safe and enriching after-school spaces, as well as mentorship programming for low-income immigrant and refugee youth from Uptown and the surrounding north side neighborhoods, such as Rogers Park, West Ridge and Edgewater.”
Cover photo: D33 Ballet Folklorico perform at Frosty Fest in West Chicago. Photo by Sal Tamayo.
Photo 1: The community tree is lit in Auburn Gresham. Photo by Caileen Casey.
Photo 2: Families celebrate Chanukah at ZooLights at Lincoln Park Zoo. Photo by Sonder Lane Photography.
Photo 3: The Christmas Around the World tree display lights up an Austin community garden. Photo courtesy of ACT.
Photo 4: Children receive toys and gifts through the Brighton Park Neighborhood Council’s community holiday events. Photo courtesy of BPNC.
Photo 5: Chinese Mutual Aid Association staff and Associate Board members wrap gifts for youth in Uptown, Rogers Park, West Ridge and Edgewater. Photo courtesy of CMAA.