On Dec. 3, 1818, Illinois officially became state. The capital was in Kaskaskia. And Chicago wasn’t yet the state’s largest city.

Needless to say, a lot has changed over the past 199 years. The capital moved to Vandalia, and then to Springfield by 1837. And, by 1857, Chicago became the state’s largest city — as it remains today.

Today marks the beginning of the state’s yearlong bicentennial celebration, which will culminate on Dec. 3, 2018, with a huge gala inside the United Center in Chicago celebrating the state's 200th birthday.

On every Sunday in The Southern over the next year, we'll have a story on the front page from various newspapers throughout the state about the people, places and things that made Illinois what it is today.

It’s going to be a grand celebration, according to the state’s bicentennial website — even as we are still recovering from more than two years without a state budget.

Regardless, I’d like to see folks all over the state celebrate the great history that Illinois has to offer.

Now, I love history. I love reading about it. I love watching shows and movies about it. I love seeing the old sites around the state. I love everything about it.

In July, my family and I took a two-day trip to Springfield to see some of the historical sites in the area. I say “some” because two days wasn’t nearly enough time to fit everything in — I’m not sure four days would be enough.

And, Springfield is just the tip of the Illinois historical iceberg. You name it, this state has it.

If you like the big city, then Chicago is for you. I know many of you will disagree with me, but Chicago and its vast suburbs are wonderful places to visit. It really is — once you get past the headache-inducing traffic.

If you’re into presidential history, like myself, there’s plenty as well. Galena has the Ulysses S. Grant historic site. Or you can go to Dixon for Ronald Reagan's boyhood home. There’s also the Obama home in Chicago.

Oh, and don’t forget about Illinois’ favorite president, Abraham Lincoln. Central Illinois is full of Lincoln history — the Looking for Lincoln signs and trails are amazing.

Like the outdoors? Illinois has that, too.

Obviously, Southern Illinois has some of the best outdoor adventures in all the state. The Shawnee Forest. Giant City State Park. The list can go on forever.

But there’s so much else — if you ever get the chance, go see Starved Rock State Park in central Illinois. It’s absolutely breathtaking.

I’d also be remiss if I didn’t mention Cahokia Mounds. It’s perfect — and it’s really just a day trip for us here in Southern Illinois.

My point is that there's plenty to celebrate in Illinois. There are plenty of things to do throughout this state.

Over the past few years, this state has had very little to celebrate. Whether it was not having a budget, nasty elections or tough times in the pocketbooks of many Illinoisans, it’s been rough.

But here’s the bottom line: Let’s enjoy this celebration. Let’s try to enjoy what this state has to offer.

Sure, it could be tough in the midst of the social climate that we’re dealing with now. In fact, it may not be easy.

But, this is a once-in-a-lifetime event to celebrate our state's 200th birthday.

Let’s put our differences aside, and enjoy what we have.

Tom English is the executive editor of The Southern Illinoisan. His columns include his own opinions and do not necessarily reflect the views, opinion or editorial position of The Southern. He can be reached at tom.english@thesouthern.com or 618-351-5070. You can follow him on Twitter at @tomenglish23.