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While the months of November and December are normally filled to the brim with planning, decorating and cooking, taking time out to experience one of the many local holiday events that Southern Illinois has to offer is a sure way to add cheer to a stressful time of year. Here, we offer 25 ideas to add to your holiday line-up.

1. Santa on the Square

Marion Main Street hosts their yearly event, Santa on the Square, each Saturday from November 24 to December 22, from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m., in the festively-decorated town square. For more than thirty years, Santa has arrived to hand out coloring books and candy canes, while taking photos with children and hearing their wish lists.

2. Cracklin’ Christmas celebration

The third annual Cracklin’ Christmas celebration is scheduled for November 15 in Pinckneyville. With local businesses staying open from 5 to 8 p.m., the event allows holiday shoppers to stroll through the downtown area and have their shopping passports stamped at each location to be entered into a grand prize drawing which includes gifts from several Pinckneyville favorites.

3. Herrin Drug Hallmark keepsake ornament release 

Herrin Drug holds a holiday event each year that begins in July, when more than one hundred Hallmark keepsake ornaments are released. With even more of the baubles debuting in October, November and December, including ornaments that sing and dance, with themes from Disney to Star Wars, there is something for everyone. Head to Herrin Drug to add to your collection or to begin a new holiday shopping tradition.

4. Cape Parade of Lights

The Cape Parade of Lights is planned for November 25. With more than one hundred entries, the procession includes marching bands, lighted floats, classic cars and Santa in his sleigh. The parade, which begins at 5 p.m. at Capaha Park in Cape Girardeau, kicks off a slew of holiday festivities in the downtown area.

5. Christmas at the Cross

Christmas at the Cross is gearing up for its third celebration at Bald Knob Cross in Alto Pass. The free event will offer music, coffee and cookies throughout the afternoon of December 2. The beautiful drive to the hilltop cross, coupled with the serene views and peaceful atmosphere, allows visitors to take a break from holiday stress while enjoying a special afternoon with family and friends.

6. Moscow Ballet’s Great Russian Nutcracker 

Appearing at the Marion Cultural and Civic Center is Moscow Ballet’s Great Russian Nutcracker. On November 27 at 7 p.m., the world-class company will grace the stage with extravagant costumes, classically trained dancers and vibrantly painted sets. The whimsical performance is a great way to get theatergoers into the Christmas spirit and will delight children and adults alike. Tickets can be purchased online via the Marion Cultural and Civic Center website.

7. Murphysboro Hometown Christmas 

The Murphysboro Hometown Christmas tree lighting ceremony will take place this year on November 30 at 6 p.m. With music, snacks, warm beverages and pictures with Santa, the evening is a fantastic way to enjoy a cozy holiday hometown atmosphere. Be sure to visit the Liberty Theater in Murphysboro on December 8 and December 16, as well, for classic Christmas movies, events also hosted by Murphysboro Hometown Christmas.

8. The Carson Center Christmas concert

Sawyer Brown will take the stage at The Carson Center in Paducah on November 30 at 7:30 p.m. for their popular Christmas concert. With a mix of holiday favorites and the band’s radio hits, the show is an ideal way to commence the holiday season, dancing and singing along to a variety of tunes.

9. Cobden’s Christmas in the Village 

Cobden’s Christmas in the Village is scheduled for December 1 from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. with a bevy of holiday activities including strolling carolers, themed pinatas, the lighting of the Christmas tree, carriage rides and Christmas bazaars. With many of the town’s shops hosting open house activities, the event is a day full of family fun.

10. Lights Fantastic Parade 

The Lights Fantastic Parade in Carbondale celebrates its 28th year on December 1 at 6 p.m. with lighted floats, marching bands and the grand finale of Santa Claus on his very own float. The City of Carbondale, Carbondale Park District, Carbondale Main Street and Carbondale Tourism are hosts of the event and welcome residents from near and far to fill the sidewalks while enjoying the nighttime parade.

11. Carbondale Cookie Walk 

As a primer for the Lights Fantastic Parade in Carbondale, families are encouraged to partake in Carbondale’s annual Cookie Walk, an event hosted by several downtown businesses who open their doors to offer cookies, cocoa and cider to parade goers. Centered around the Town Square Pavilion, the Cookie Walk takes place from 4 to 6 p.m. the day of the Lights Fantastic Parade.

12. The Varsity Center holiday movies

The Varsity Center in Carbondale has a wide array of holiday movies planned for the month of December, including favorites such as National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation, It’s A Wonderful Life, and Love Actually. Tickets are seven dollars at the door, five dollars for students, and The Varsity Bar opens half an hour before the 7 p.m. showtimes. Check out the full schedule and purchase tickets at or the Varsity Center website.

13. Mount Vernon Downtown Christmas Parade and Tree Lighting

For the sixth year running, Mount Vernon will hold its Downtown Christmas Parade and Tree Lighting. Following the 5 p.m. parade on December 1, the tree lighting will take place on the east side of the courthouse square. Food and refreshments will be available for purchase, along with free choir performances, cookie decorating stations and craft tables. Downtown businesses will stay open late that evening so visitors can get a jump on holiday shopping.

14. Santa Speedo and Mrs. Claus in Bras 5K race

Keep holiday weight gain at bay with the first annual Santa Speedo and Mrs. Claus in Bras 5K race at Life Community Center in Carbondale on December 1 at 8:30 a.m. The event is hosted by Jackson County Health Department and proceeds will benefit Southern Illinois HIV Care Connect program. Speedos and bras are completely optional, but all participants are encouraged to enjoy Cristaudo’s cookies and Jen’s Joe coffee and hot cocoa before and after the race.

15. Holiday Lights Fair  

The 19th Annual Holiday Lights Fair takes place every night from Thanksgiving through December 30 on the grounds of the Du Quoin State Fair. The event, which charges $10 per vehicle, boasts more than three miles of extravagant lighted displays. During the first three weekends in December, admission also includes entry to the Exhibition Hall, where visitors can enjoy food and craft vendors, live music, visits with Santa and model train displays from 6 to 9 p.m.

16. Christmas Stroll at the Harrison Bruce Historical Village 

The third annual Christmas Stroll at Harrison Bruce Historical Village, on John A. Logan College campus in Carterville, is scheduled for Sunday, December 2 from 2 to 4 p.m. With costumed guides, the two-hundred-year-old Hunter Cabin, and the grand Victorian Harrison House, the Village Stroll offers a glimpse into holiday traditions of the 1800s. Festive music, refreshments and a visit from St. Nicholas make this free event a memorable and educational one for all visitors.

17. First Friday Story Time 

Visit the Beck Family Center at Cedarhurst Center for the Arts in Mount Vernon for their December installment of First Friday Story Time on December 7 at 10 a.m. Jennifer Sarver, Director of Education at Cedarhurst Center for the Arts, says the event is geared towards Pre-K-age children and she looks forward to reading holiday-themed stories in front of the large Christmas tree on display in the grand corridor. Entry is free and open to the public.

18. Golconda Progressive Christmas Lighted House Tour

The Golconda Progressive Christmas Lighted House Tour will take place on December 7 at 6 p.m. this year, at a cost of $20 per person. Beginning at Pope County Historical Society Museum, the progressive tour allows participants to enjoy the lighted Christmas trees and exquisite holiday decor at each building. Appetizers, desserts, wine, cider and coffee are offered at each stop and are included in the ticket price.

19. Christmas shopping at Etcetera Flowers and Gifts 

Etcetera Flowers and Gifts in Marion is the perfect destination for lavish gifts to round out holiday shopping lists. The owner, Mike Heilig, offers fresh decor such as poinsettias, plants, wreaths, centerpieces and gift baskets, but says Etcetera also proudly sells everything from home fragrance to Waterford crystal. Gourmet food items from Robert Rothschild Farm, Tay Tea, Stonewall Kitchen products and handmade chocolate truffles are just a few of the delightful items shoppers can discover at Etcetera.

20. Olde Tyme Christmas

For a journey into the past, visit the Olde Tyme Christmas event at Fort Massac in Metropolis on December 9 from 1 to 4 p.m. Historical re-enactors portray inhabitants of the Fort from the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, including holiday decor, food and drinks from the more primitive era. Entertainment and refreshments will be provided by Friends of Fort Massac who co-host the event with Massac Marines.

21. Swedish Christmas Dinner at Hedman Vineyards 

If an extravagant feast, held within one of the most beautiful wineries along the Shawnee Wine Trail, sounds like the perfect addition to the holiday season, make your reservations for the December 9 annual Swedish Christmas Dinner at Hedman Vineyards in Alto Pass. With a Sankta Lucia procession, music, candles and mulled Swedish Glögg wine, diners are encouraged to make reservations in advance, as this popular event usually sells out.

22. Small Wonders Program at Rend Lake 

Children five and under are invited to Rend Lake Visitor’s Center for their holiday-themed monthly Small Wonders Program. On December 11, from 10 to 11:30 a.m., the free event will give children an opportunity to meet Santa Claus and Bobber the water safety dog, while enjoying holiday tunes and making special ornaments to take home.

23. 'A Child’s Christmas in Wales' at The Varsity Center

Another event worth catching at The Varsity Center in Carbondale is the return engagement of “A Child’s Christmas in Wales”. The one-man show, featuring Kevin Purcell, accompanied by William Bewley’s orchestra, is based on the Welsh poem by Dylan Thomas and is sure to delight viewers of all ages. Running Friday, December 14 and Sunday, December 16, tickets are $15 for general admission, $8 for students, and $4 for children under 10.

24. Merry Christmas Tour 

For the sixteenth year in a row, NewSong will be performing their Very Merry Christmas Tour at the Marion Cultural and Civic Center on December 15, along with Colton Dixon, Unspoken and Bethany Cruz. While headliner NewSong’s guest performers change each year, the event always sells out and Ken Anderson, station manager at WBVN 104.5, says the contemporary Christian music, with some traditional holiday favorites sprinkled in, is a favored local event.

25. West Frankfort's Candy Cane Lane 

A longtime local favorite event, Candy Cane Lane in West Frankfort, is set to open December 1, with lights running every day from dawn to midnight through the month of December. With more than thirty thousand lights, the five-block drive will add sparkle to the cold nights of December, dazzling each and every visitor. Donations are welcome, as the event is volunteer only. Visitors are encouraged to walk Candy Cane Lane to avoid the congested traffic that can occur at peak times.

This holiday season, be sure to make cherished memories with your loved ones by adding one or more of these events to your calendar.

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