Window Wonderland event highlights downtown Elgin

Visitors to the Downtown Elgin Window Wonderland Saturday could enjoy visits with three kinds of animals.

There were the wagon rides powered by a pair of mules.

There were the two mellow reindeer.

And then there was a police dog.

Amid Christmas trees, tinsel and treats, the Elgin Police Department conducted an open house that featured displays, games and souvenirs about its divisions.

It was one of more than a dozen sites featured in the 17th annual event, which took place at businesses and churches throughout the downtown. It was sponsored by the Downtown Neighborhood Association. People could collect stamps on a "passport" pamphlet, to enter a drawing for prizes. Windows were painted in the theme "The Twelve Days of Christmas."

The afternoon ended with a ceremony where the city's Christmas tree was lit.

Fans of roasted chestnuts followed their noses - or the plume of smoke - to the grill manned by association members Tom Armstrong and Tom Brockner. The two are veteran roasters. They had a 25-pound bag of the treats. And they made extra sure to score the shells deeply enough to prevent them from exploding. "We learned last year. It was like a bomb. There were nut pieces everywhere," Armstrong said.

At the Elgin Artspace Lofts, young Allison Apmann, the daughter of property manager Kathy Apmann, greeted guests, offered refreshments, stamped passports and explained the "Ugly Sweater" ornament craft. Kids could use markers, glitter, glue and more to decorate the ornaments, which promoted a December 2016 effort to set a Guinness Book of World Records record for most people wearing ugly Christmas sweaters at a party.

What makes a sweater ugly? "By making it very crowded" with decor, Allison explained.

St. John Lutheran and First United Methodist churches participated. Within the first 90 minutes, more than 30 children had decorated cookies at St. John's, said Pam Huske, a resource teacher at the school and friendship manager for the church.

The Methodists put on a live-Nativity skit. "It's been a fun event," said member Rita Corbett. One of the Three Wise Men couldn't make it, so she donned the maroon velvet robe and filled in.

"Shouldn't we have a wise woman in this day and age?" she joked.

Despite temperatures in the mid-40s, people were able to skate at the Elgin Civic Plaza.

But the reindeer found it too warm, choosing to lie down on a parking lot while children petted them.

"Right now they are very chill," said reindeer handler Jesus Fregoso. They prefer temperatures below freezing. When asked where the reindeer came from, Fregoso replied, with a straight face: "From the North Pole. They just stay in Belvidere (at the Summerfield Zoo.)"

  Elgin Mayor David Kaptain addresses the crowd during the 17th annual Elgin tree lighting Saturday at the Civic Center Plaza. Brian Hill/
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