How Dickens in Dundee festival has evolved over 30 years

The current Dickens in Dundee festival looks nothing like the first one 30 years ago.

On Friday and Saturday, Dec. 1 and 2, the streets of East and West Dundee will be filled will revelers, gazing at painted storefront windows, watching tree-lighting ceremonies, sitting on Santa's lap and listening to seasonal music.

Step back in time three decades ago and all the festival offered was a search for Tiny Tim's crutch. It was pretty much one night and one night only.

“Then, it was a small gathering,” said Barbara Traver, an organizer for the annual festival. “The (disbanded) Dundee Jaycees did a good job putting together the first festival, but it has grown through the years.”

Other groups, such as the Dundee Township Historical Society and the Dundee Lions Clubs, became involved. Horse-drawn carriage rides, tree-decorating contests and a parade were added. In 2006, West Dundee trustees took overs its planning and invited their counterparts on the east side of the Fox River to help.

The festival is too important for local business exposure to become stagnant or even stop, said Joe Cavallaro, West Dundee village manager.

“This has become Dundee's longest running festival,” he said “It gives East and West Dundee an opportunity to celebrate the holidays together.”

No matter what the weather residents come out in droves to walk along the Route 72 business district to enjoy open houses and tree-lighting ceremonies in both villages.

East Dundee trustees will start the party on Friday with a 6 p.m. tree-lighting ceremony at the Dundee Township Visitors' Center, along North River Street. The Dundee-Crown High School Chamber Choir will perform as the lights go on and Santa arrives in a fire truck.

At 7 p.m., West Dundee trustees will light their holiday tree at the Second Street village hall and host an open house. As people walk from one side of the river to the other, along North River Street and Route 72, they will see living window displays in the shops along the way.

“One of our displays will be called, “how much is that puppy in the window,” said Barbara Sypien, East Dundee events coordinator for the Dickens festival. “With the help of the Hoof, Woof, and Meow Animal Rescue group (of Gilberts), one of our windows will feature adoptable dogs and cats.”

The musical group The Gingers will perform in East Dundee's warming tent from 7-9 p.m. Music will also be performed from 2-4 p.m. on Saturday in East Dundee's warming tent.

“There will be so many events for families to enjoy. River Street will come to life with all the activities,” she said.

Hayrides will also be offered for revelers who want to be carried to all the events. On the next day, the Spirit of Christmas Parade will step off from the West Dundee village hall and continue to the visitors' center in East Dundee.

“This is another event that has grown through the years,” Traver said. “Earlier Dickens festivals have had parades, but this year, 47 units have already signed up to march in it. By parade day, we'll probably have 50 units or more.”

Decorating contest

The first Dickens festival also did not have a holiday house and business-decorating contest as has been held in recent years.

Residents in both villages are invited to decorate their homes in three categories: best nostalgic display, best animated display and best use of lights. Merchants are also urged to decorate their shops. Local residents will select their favorites and cast their votes on the internet.

Photos will start being taken on Dec. 2. Voting will run from Dec. 5 to 25. The grand prize is $100.

For information about the contest or to join Saturday's parade, call the West Dundee village hall at (847) 551-3800 or the East Dundee village hall at (847) 426-2822.

For a complete list of events in both villages, visit the festival's website at

  Santa takes a moment to greet some of the animals at the petting zoo during Dickens in Dundee at Grafelman Park in West Dundee. Brian Hill/, 2013
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