Cranks Up the Amps for Merry, Bright Holiday Lights and Fun

By Beth Whisman

The familiar holiday lights in Uptown Normal will have an added sparkle this year. The popular destination has enhanced efforts to brighten the season and create a familiar space to reconnect with holiday traditions even as the social and retail landscape changes due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

“There’s something about the canopy of lights and decorated windows that make shopping—even curb-side pickup—a little more magical,” said Cally Shane with Fabulous Affairs in Uptown. “This year, we especially need that kind of cozy Christmas magic. It reminds us we have important traditions to celebrate and special loved ones to remember.” 

The trees throughout Uptown are decorated each year with thousands of strands of white and red lights thanks to the Town of Normal Parks and Recreation Department with support from Illinois State University. New this year is a second collaboration with the Town’s Cultural Arts Department, the ISU School of Theater and Dance Graduate Scenic Design Program, and the McLean County Museum of History.

Uptown Holiday Windows will light up each night through Dec. 31. Windows at 1 Uptown Circle will act as canvases showcasing images from past and present. Photos submitted by community members and the history museum will create a dynamic presentation of Bloomington-Normal winter traditions. When visitors reach the heart of Uptown, they’ll see fun images of gap-toothed kids smiling (or not!) with Santa Claus, families sledding on a snowy day, children lighting the Menorah for Hannukah, vintage holiday décor, historic sites, and other personal memories that make the holidays warmer.

“We knew we were going to have to adjust how we celebrate certain elements of the holiday season this year,” said Adam Fox, Civic Arts Manager for the Town. “The pandemic will certainly have an impact on our opportunities to gather, and we should all adhere to the prescribed safety protocols. This contemporary take on classic department store window displays allows us to showcase the things that are most important about the holiday season: the people, the traditions, and the memories. And we can do so while keeping everyone safe and healthy.”

On the north side of the building where Uptown Circle and North Street meet, ISU School of Theatre and Dance graduate student Roman Reyes has also created a whimsical holiday window display that is sure to ignite your imagination. The space represents Santa’s workshop with elf-inspired upgrades for modern times. 

“This opportunity came at a wonderful time. While there was an inability for me to design for the theatre this semester, there was the chance to create something for the community at large. The window display is meant to enchant and tell a story. Hopefully, it also has the chance to spread fun and cheer into each viewer’s day,” Reyes explained. 

Windows into Uptown stores are always festive as they offer unique boutique experiences and inventory to help shoppers find the perfect gift. Staff have worked hard to adjust their physical space to allow extra room for social distancing and comfortable shopping. Most stores will also work with shoppers to coordinate curb-side pickup. You can explore the shopping options from home at 

“Don’t assume anything this year. You might be surprised the many ways Uptown Partners can still serve our customers and provide our brand of holiday magic,” said Sarah McManus with the Garlic Press. “We have been part of Normal for more than 44 years. We’ve gotten pretty good at being flexible and meeting new challenges. The holidays are our favorite time of year!”

While you’re sipping your peppermint latte and visiting Uptown locations, you might notice a series of Reindeer Riddles signs thanks to the Children’s Discovery Museum. Families are invited to play along as they shop and explore to solve the holiday riddles. They can also enter to win $500 sponsored by Uptown Partners. To play and officially enter the drawing, participants can make a $15 donation to the children’s museum and receive an official Reindeer Riddles card. Donors will be able to add up to five additional entries with their card if they shop Uptown and make additional purchases at participating stores. For complete contest information, please visit Proceeds from Reindeer Riddles will support the nonprofit museum which has been closed to general admission since March.

“We are able to provide limited holiday events such as our annual Jammies & Jingles and personal Zoom Calls with Santa Claus, but our main source of support and engagement has been severely affected by the pandemic,” said Shelly Hanover with the CDM. “We are getting creative with new ways to support the Museum. We’re excited to add some playful learning to the Uptown holiday shopping experience, and I think we could all use an extra $500 this time of year. Don’t forget you always support the CDM when you shop in our store.”

Movies at the Normal Theater offer an especially powerful way to escape the realities of 2020 just long enough to restore some holiday spirit. The historic Art Deco movie house is offering its traditional holiday films on the big screen including perennial favorites White Christmas and It’s a Wonderful Life, as well as the contemporary classics Elf, Home Alone, and National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation. The Normal Theater has added COVID-19 precautions to make the movie-going experience safe for all. Masks are required, the theater will operate at a reduced capacity and seating will be assigned to maintain distance. Tickets can be purchased in-person at the box office 30 minutes prior to show time, or online at Patrons can select seats with either option but purchasing online avoids missing sold-out shows. New Normal Theater merchandise and its silver 25th anniversary ornament are also available for purchase and make great gifts!

However you celebrate the winter holiday season, the many sights, sounds, and smells of Uptown Normal will offer that familiar feeling of home and holidays past. Parking is convenient and free in surface lots and along the tree-lined streets. Parking decks on College Avenue and at Uptown Station are free every evening after 5pm and all day on Sundays. The first hour of parking is always free ($1 per hour after that).

“Shopping and dining local will really make a difference this year for all small business owners, employees, and their families who always rely on the holiday season to cap off the success of the year,” said Joe Slane with Medici in Normal. “We’ll see you soon!”


For more inspirational and informative articles visit 50 Plus News and Views Bloomington/Normal Edition.

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