LAKE FOREST — As an overflow Market Square crowd counted down from 10, Maryilene Blondell and her three daughters flipped the switch illuminating Lake Forest’s Christmas tree.
Lighting the tree and entire downtown along with the Lake Forest High School Choristers performance of the Hallelujah Chorus capped the city’s 34th annual tree lighting November 24 in Market Square.
Blondell stood on the platform in front of the large red switchbox with her three daughters—Estee Curry, a University of Colorado sophomore; Anafran Curry, a Lake Forest High School senior, and Lieselle Curry, a Deer Path Middle School fifth grader.
After living in Lake Forest as her children started to grow up, Blondell and her family moved away for a while, but they returned five years ago. The opportunity to take a key role in the city’s annual celebration starting the holiday season was special.
“I feel very humbled right now,” said Blondell as she was about to light the tree. “Christmas is a beautiful time of year and we are proud to help start off the holiday season.”
Blondell and her children were handpicked for their task by Lake Forest Mayor Rob Lansing. He said he was looking for a nice Lake Forest family and they were a good choice.
Mayor Attends With Four Generals of Family
Lansing has attended nearly every tree lighting since the event began, but this was the first time he greeted the city from the podium as its mayor. He was there with four generations of his family — from Margaret Hart, his 95-year-old mother-in-law, to his four grandchildren.
“It really is awesome to be here when we turn on the lights,” said Lansing. “It’s one of the things that makes Lake Forest special.”
Before the lights went on, the LFHS Choristers led the crowd in a medley of holiday music starting with “Jingle Bells” and continuing with songs like “Silent Night,” White Christmas” and more. When the choir director asked the crowd to sing along, they heeded. Standing in the crowd, it sounded like surround sound.
“He’s living the dream,” said Suzy Peterson of Lake Bluff of her son, Jesse Peterson, who was smiling and singing “Jingle Bells” along with the crowd.
Kathy Nowlin of Northfield, who said it was her first time at Lake Forest’s tree lighting after receiving an invitation from Lake Forest relatives.
“The crowd is so loud,” said Nowlin of the singing. “We’re going to keep coming up here from Winnetka and Northfield.”
Winnetka Cousins Get an Invitation
The invitation came from Julia Saran, a Lake Forest native with relatives from Winnetka.
“It reminds me of Whoville,” Saran said referring to the fictional town from How the Grinch Stole Christmas,”a holiday classic by Dr. Seuss. “I thought this would be a great experience for the Winnetka cousins.”
Saran was also there with Martha Stride, a cousin and Lake Forest resident, and longtime Lake Forest friend Emma Faucher. Attending the tree lighting is an annual event for them.
“It’s great to keep up a small-town tradition,” said Faucher.
Another institution that has been part of the tree lighting festivities for the last 27 years are chestnuts roasted over an open fire by Ermanno Amidei, who operates Amidei Mercantio on Market Square. Three generations of the Amidei family were there too. Taking part were his son Moses Amidei and his grandson Giancarlo Amidei.
“This is a great tradition,” said Moses Amidei. “I look forward to it every year. I bring my son so he has these memories to remember and pass on.”
People Feast on Roasted Chestnuts
Ermanno Amidei said he learned to roast chestnuts in his native Pievepepago, Italy. The chestnuts were imported from Italy.
“I roasted them three times a day there,” said Amidei. “Sometimes that’s all we had to eat.”
Activities started at 3 p.m. with crafts for children. Santa Claus arrived at 3:30 p.m., and a long line formed so youngsters could tell Santa what they wanted for Christmas. Two of the youngsters in line were Zoe Floriani and Ziggy Floriani, both of Lake Forest.
A Sheridan Elementary School third grader, Zoe Floriani told Santa she wanted to be surprised for Christmas.
“This is Americana, to see the tree lighting and Santa Claus in the square,” said Brian Floriani, the children’s father. “All this goes into what makes this city special. It’s important to teach the children that.”