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posted: 11/7/2013 6:00 AM

Downtown Naperville lighting up early for marathon, holidays

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  • The Holiday Grand Illumination will dazzle with more than 300,000 holiday lights during a Hometown Holidays kickoff event at 6 p.m. Friday, Nov. 8, in downtown Naperville. Usually held around Thanksgiving, the ceremony was moved up about three weeks to precede Sunday's inaugural Edward Hospital Naperville Marathon.

       The Holiday Grand Illumination will dazzle with more than 300,000 holiday lights during a Hometown Holidays kickoff event at 6 p.m. Friday, Nov. 8, in downtown Naperville. Usually held around Thanksgiving, the ceremony was moved up about three weeks to precede Sunday's inaugural Edward Hospital Naperville Marathon.
    Paul Michna | Staff Photographer

  • Large crowds have gathered in the past for ceremonies lighting up downtown Naperville for the holiday season. This year's Holiday Grand Illumination event was moved up about three weeks from its usual date after Thanksgiving to Friday, Nov. 8, to precede the inaugural Edward Hospital Naperville Marathon on Sunday.

       Large crowds have gathered in the past for ceremonies lighting up downtown Naperville for the holiday season. This year's Holiday Grand Illumination event was moved up about three weeks from its usual date after Thanksgiving to Friday, Nov. 8, to precede the inaugural Edward Hospital Naperville Marathon on Sunday.
    PAUL MICHNA | Staff Photographer

 
 

If Nov. 8 seems a bit soon to be lighting up downtown Naperville for the winter season, there's good reason, say those behind the early date for the annual kickoff of Hometown Holidays festivities.

Actually, 26.2 miles worth of good reason.

The Holiday Grand Illumination at 6 p.m. Friday, which coincides with the unveiling of 25 painted gingerbread sculptures, was moved up about three weeks to precede the inaugural Edward Hospital Naperville Marathon on Sunday, Nov. 10, said Katie Wood, executive director of the Downtown Naperville Alliance.

"We've actually moved them forward to coincide with the marathon weekend," Wood said about the events, centered around the corner of Main Street and Jefferson Avenue. "Typically, we wouldn't have gone that early, but we did just in the spirit of the marathon and wanting to have it be a real showplace for all the marathoners and their families."

More than 300,000 lights on trees and rooftops will be illuminated simultaneously during the event, which also includes musical entertainment, specials and sales. In front of businesses throughout downtown, 25 gingerbread sculptures painted by artists and schoolchildren will be revealed all at once, giving visitors more than just twinkling lights to look at.

"The reveal really is all around the downtown because the sculptures will be installed earlier that day," Wood said.

They'll be covered before the event, but teenage volunteers will take them out of hiding when the moment is right.

Wood said families can check in throughout the two-hour event at a tent at Main and Jefferson, where kids will receive gingerbread-themed goody bags and parents can snag a map of statue locations. Kids can pick up treats at each decorated gingerbread man they visit and vote online later for their favorite.

One sculpture, sponsored by Wood herself, is designed to look familiar, she said, depicting "Naperville's cheerleader." Another, sponsored by NCTV-17, includes an embedded camera that will capture viewers' reactions.

Footage taken from the gingerbread cam then will be used during the station's newscasts, Wood said, so excitable statue-viewers may be able to see themselves on TV.

The gingerbread statues follow a flock of decorated snowmen displayed last year, when the Downtown Naperville Alliance brought temporary public art back to the area for the first time since 2008.

A previous tradition that lasted eight years during the 2000s -- and brought the likes of giraffes, carousel horses, mystical dragons and bears to downtown streets -- ended when the Naperville United Way chapter that had sponsored the sculptures merged with another chapter in DuPage County.

"The sculptures will remain up throughout the holiday shopping and dining season until the middle of January," Wood said about this year's display of gingerbread men.

Afterward, each business that sponsored a gingerbread man can decide its own sculpture's fate. Some may donate the artwork to charity, some might leave it in their stores, or others could choose to give their gingerbread man to a deserving employee or lucky customer, Wood said.

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