Merry & Bright Events Bring Awe and Wonder to the Rockford Region for the Holidays - Community hosts family-friendly activities and events throughout the season



November 14, 2016


Rockford, IL ­­– The Rockford region is filled with sites, attractions, eateries and organizations that have enhanced the holiday season this year with several “Merry & Bright” festivities happening from November 26 to January 31.

Along with the region’s largest holiday celebration on November 26 in downtown Rockford, Stroll on State presented by Illinois Bank & Trust, two additional events will help spread holiday cheer in the Rockford community while aiming to support the local economy. Shop on State is a hometown holiday shopping experience happening Thursday, December 8 from 5 – 9 p.m. This event is a collaborative effort with the RACVB and River District Association and local businesses that will feature great shopping, live music and food vendors. The 12 Bars of Christmas Pub Crawl kicks off Saturday, December 17, 2 p.m. at BMO Harris Bank Center and will wind its way through downtown Rockford to 12 local bars and restaurants. Tickets can be purchased and additional information can be found online at  

“It’s that time of year when merriment and togetherness are front and center as the holidays take over the Rockford region. This year we have an impressive list of things to do including outdoor recreational winter activities, events rich in cultural pride, hometown performances, unique shopping options and plenty more,” said Josh Albrecht, Rockford Area Convention & Visitors Bureau Director of Marketing & Public Affairs. “These events and activities shine a bright light on our local economy as local business owners prepare for an influx of patronage, but even more importantly it’s a time to cherish traditions made with our loved ones that we will remember for a lifetime.”

As freshly fallen snow blankets our community this winter season, our outdoor parks and recreational places thrive with adventurous activities. Rocktown Adventures hosts snowshoeing tours throughout various Rockford Park District facilities and Rock Cut State Park. Snow Park at Alpine Hills offers snow tubing, skiing and snowboarding, including a handy surface lift that gives rides back to the top of the runs. Parks throughout Rockford and Winnebago County such as Klehm Arboretum, Severson Dells and The Natural Land Institute’s Nygren Wetlands have beautiful hiking trails and thousands of acres perfect for exploring and enjoying luminary lights and festive features. The ice is primed to perfection inside the


BMO Harris Bank Center as locals and visitors alike cheer on their beloved Rockford IceHogs, the American Hockey League Affiliate of the Chicago Blackhawks, all season long.

Rockford is made up of residents from a variety of different cultures. There are several celebratory events taking place at local museums and church organizations during the holidays to honor, acknowledge and appreciate the different ethnicities that settled here. The Ethnic Heritage Museum recognizes holiday traditions in six different ethnicities; Italian, African American, Irish, Hispanic, Lithuanian and Polish. A choir featuring over 30 children will sing Swedish traditional songs at the timeless Lucia Concert. Other New Year celebrations focus on these cultures from around the world, included in an hourly countdown to midnight at the Discovery Center Museum and Burpee Museum of Natural History.


While building lasting traditions this season, families have great local options when finding that perfect, freshly grown Christmas tree. Gensler Gardens offers a temperature controlled greenhouse filled with a large selection of wreaths and other festive decorations and custom arrangements. Keith’s Christmas Trees provides a peaceful family-owned tree farm where families can cut down their favorite scotch and white pine trees. A quick trip into Roscoe leads families to Valley View Christmas Tree Farm, located on 100 year old farmland nestled high on a hill overlooking a beautiful valley of planted trees. Williams Tree Farm is adorned with a decorated lodge, hayrides, maze, gift shop and café.

Other events that are part of the Merry & Bright Season include:

  • Holiday Tree Lighting & Open House – Edgebrook (Nov. 18-19) – Get in the holiday spirit with Edgebrook’s annual Tree Lighting Ceremony on Friday and the Open House on Saturday featuring all of the merchants at Edgebrook.
  • A Cottage Christmas – Tinker Swiss Cottage (Nov. 22-Jan. 15) – Tinker Swiss Cottage Museum will be alive with the sights and sounds of “Christmas Past!” The historic Tinker Swiss Cottage will remain decorated for the holidays for all to enjoy.
  • Festival of Lights – Sinnissippi Park (Nov. 25-Dec. 25) – The annual Holiday Festival of Lights has become a Stateline family tradition, with over 50 holiday-themed lighted displays. Santa will be on site each weekend night so you can hand deliver your letters to him.
  • Stroll on State – Downtown Rockford (Nov. 26) – Stroll on State returns for a 4th year to get you in the holiday spirit. Come see Santa, go ice skating and witness the magical tree lighting ceremony of the official City Christmas Tree.
  • All Aglow Display – Nicholas Conservatory (Nov. 26-Jan. 8) – Come see sparkling holiday lights and beautiful floral displays inside the warm tropical conservatory. Outdoor grounds are also lit up and decorated for the season.
  • The Nutcracker – Rockford University (Nov. 26-27) – Rockford Dance Company’s annual performance of The Nutcracker has amazing new choreography by Monica Isla from the Milwaukee Ballet.
  • Rockton Christmas Walk (Dec. 3) – The 32nd annual event includes the Candy Cane Craft Fair, Lighting of the Park, Lighted Parade, horse drawn wagon rides, Santa and Christmas carolers.
  • Winnebago Buy LocalA Local Holiday Market (Dec. 10) – This annual event helps you support and shop at your favorite local homegrown, grass roots businesses, all in one convenient location!
  • J. R. Sullivan’s “Hometown Holiday” – Nordlof Center (Dec. 10-11) – This seasonal variety show is custom-made each year for the Rockford community. It features holiday-inspired storytelling, comedy and seasonal popular music.
  • Holiday Pops Concert – Coronado Performing Arts Center (Dec. 17-18) – Celebrate the holiday season as the Mendelssohn Chorale joins the Rockford Symphony Orchestra to bring you the best music of the season, from popular to traditional and sentimental to serious.

To wrap up the Merry & Bright festivities in a big way the 2017 Snow Sculpting Competition, hosted by the Rockford Park District, will take place from January 18 – 21 at Sinnissippi Park. Teams from around the state will compete in Rockford for the right to represent Illinois in the 2018 U.S. National Snow Sculpting Competition. High school teams from the Rockford area will compete in the high school level the same week. As many as 70,000 visitors view these massive works of snow art each year and have a chance to cast their vote for the People’s Choice award. The Awards Ceremony will close out the event on January 21. Sinnissippi Park is open daily to the public for sculpture viewing from sunrise until 10:30 p.m. and while weather permits. Admission is free, but donations are welcome.

Rockford’s River Lights (presented by Mercyhealth,) is back for the second year in downtown Rockford. Located on the banks of the Rock River between State Street and Jefferson Street bridges. River Lights will have featured holiday shows on Friday and Saturday nights throughout the month of December. Shows will run every 15 minutes from 5:30 p.m. – 8:30 p.m. On non-show nights, Rockford's River Lights stay on each night and illuminate the riverbanks between Jefferson Street and State Street bridges. 

Designed to be viewed from afar as well as up close, residents are invited to walk along the Esplanade on the west bank of the river and the Millennium Fountain and Joe Marino Park path on the east side, between the State and Jefferson Street bridges. This year, the installation features new designs and an interactive feature which allows viewers to activate lights in different zones located in Joe Marino Park.

For more information, go to

For more information to help you plan your itinerary or to download the complete schedule of our recommended Merry & Bright events and activities go online to


RACVB exists to drive quality of life and economic growth for the citizens of Rockford and Winnebago County through tourism marketing and destination development.



Andrea Mandala, RACVB Marketing & Communications Manager: 815.489.1664 or