Need a little Christmas? Downtown Wheaton shines bright for the holidays

  • The holiday light display in Adams Park in downtown Wheaton runs through Jan. 10.

      The holiday light display in Adams Park in downtown Wheaton runs through Jan. 10. John Starks | Staff Photographer

  • "Woody" the reindeer is stationed outside Dry City Brew Works in a new holiday display around downtown Wheaton.

    "Woody" the reindeer is stationed outside Dry City Brew Works in a new holiday display around downtown Wheaton. Courtesy of Elle Withall

  • "We have businesses that need support, and this was one way to do that to really just bring people downtown," says Elle Withall, leader of a Wheaton business group the flipped the switch on "Nights of Lights" in Adams Park.

      "We have businesses that need support, and this was one way to do that to really just bring people downtown," says Elle Withall, leader of a Wheaton business group the flipped the switch on "Nights of Lights" in Adams Park. John Starks | Staff Photographer

 
 
Updated 11/25/2020 6:12 PM

These reindeer are not fit to fly.

But the herd stationed in downtown Wheaton outshines Santa's eight tiny reindeer in one regard: Individual style.

 

Elle Withall, herself a master of ingenuity, wrangled some two dozen reindeer topiaries, each decked out in their holiday finest, to man their post outside businesses.

"People love it," the Downtown Wheaton Association executive director said. "They love it. They love the idea of starting a new tradition."

In a time of uncertainty and solitude, the pandemic-friendly reindeer parade is one of the new displays helping to keep the holiday spirit alive in all the gloom.

The historic Adams Park is looking more festive than ever, cutting through the darkness with some 35,000 twinkling bulbs. Artist Jose Sanchez has painted storefront windows with snowmen, penguins and more reindeer (the flying kind).

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The city canceled an annual parade, but Withall and her elves have still created a dazzling holiday atmosphere to lure people into the downtown to shop local instead of online or in big box stores.

"The goal is to encourage people to see the lights, and then go a step further and put their money where their heart is by supporting local," Withall said.

The city and Withall saw a blank canvass in Adams Park, a square block neighboring the Wheaton Public Library.

"We thought what a great way to kind of light everything and shine some light again during what's been a really dark nine months," she said.

The park is now aglow with a kaleidoscope of colors from dusk until 10 p.m.

"We're not just using standard Christmas colors," said Kelly Hadfield owner of Fox Valley Lighting.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

The downtown business group commissioned Hadfield's Wayne-based business to light up 45 trees in the park. Her employees also strung three-dimensional spheres to add to the unique design.

"Elle really had a vision in mind for what she wanted for the park, and she brought those ideas to us, and we were able to help bring her vision to life," Hadfield.

The city, Wheaton Bank & Trust, Wheaton Wellness Center and First Trust sponsored the free lighting event that's running through Jan. 10.

"It took a lot of thoughtfulness to re-imagine how we could accommodate public safety while bringing some holiday spirit to the downtown this year," Withall said.

She came up with the reindeer idea after spotting one in a front yard. The city's reindeer may even go down in history, a symbol of community in an era of social distancing.

Shop owners, students and volunteers went all out decorating, and sometimes naming, each reindeer. Mayor Phil Suess ordered one, too.

"We thought it was just going to be businesses, and next thing we know we have service organizations like the Rotary and Lions," Withall said. "We have Girl Scout troops. We had Wheaton North. We have community people now that want to buy reindeer and have them around their houses."

Withall soon will announce details on a reindeer voting contest. But Wheatonites may have a hard time picking a favorite.

"Woody" the reindeer greets Dry City Brew Works carryout customers who may be picking up a winter brew, Cinnamon Bear.

The Suzette's Creperie reindeer is wearing a red French beret and mustache.

"Jeannie" the reindeer is modeling a motorcycle jacket and jeans outside the Jeans and a Cute Top Shop.

To find the rest, visit the Downtown Wheaton Association website for a map of the reindeer parade and painted windows.

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