A Christmas Club in Christmas Land, Why Can’t Every Day Be Like Christmas?

Hello Friend and Merry Christmas!


This may seem a strange time of the year to wish someone a Merry Christmas, but if you love Christmas as much as I do, (and you must, otherwise you would not be reading this) then your curiosity must be in high gear with the creation of a Christmas Club welcoming enthusiast from all across Illinois and Indiana to join together for a brand-new adventure.


NOTE: PLEASE TAKE YOUR TIME WHILE READING THIS INFORMATION PAGE / STORY BEFORE YOU RSVP AND BEFORE YOU ATTEND THE FIRST CLUB MEETING. THE MORE YOU READ IT, THE VISION YOU WILL KNOW AND THE MISSION WE WILL GROW!   


My name is Alan and I LOVE CHRISTMAS and everything C*H*R*I*S*T*M*A*S stands for! First, thank you for taking the time to read this information page, in hopes of locating others from all over East-Central Illinois and West-Central Indiana who love the true Spirit of Christmas all year long and are simply burned out with the condition of our society. What happened to our love for mankind? If you find yourself seeking “That Christmas Feeling” more than just during the month of December and you are thrilled that The Hallmark Channel is currently celebrating their ten-year anniversary with Christmas movies on Thursday and Friday evenings, then we need you in this club. If you look forward to when Hobby Lobby and Prairie Gardens transforms their stores into a Christmas Wonderland, then we need you in this club. By the way, with as much dedication and excellence that stores such as Hobby Lobby and Prairie Gardens invests into preparing for the Christmas Season, not to mention the man hours it takes, are you as thankful as I am that we have them right here in Champaign, Illinois? Their dedication allows enthusiast like us to explore, research and plan our interior and exterior designs far in advance because it takes time. Am I correct? IF YOU FAIL TO PLAN, THEN YOU PLAN TO FAIL! I learned this at a young age and thankful that I did.


So, if you find yourself getting frustrated with others who listen to Christmas music, watch movies or decorate prior to Thanksgiving, then this brand-new club may not be for you. However, if you listen to WLIT in Chicago and cannot wait until Edison the WLIT Reindeer turns “THE LIGHT ON”, meaning transforming the station into the official Chicagoland Christmas Radio Music Station and maybe even entering their contest to guess when Edison flips the switch in early November, then welcome to the ILLIANA CHRISTMAS CLUB, where the only requirement is that you love Christmas and being around other enthusiast who love it just as much as you do. No other requirements or fees for membership, just the desire to dream “BIG” in preserving the true Spirit of Christmas for generations to come, exactly as you see on both Hallmark Channels. Now, picture the movie Christmas Land and then vision something even bigger here in East-Central Illinois and West-Central Indiana.


“THAT CHRISTMAS FEELING”! On August 6, 1946, Perry Como recorded the song “That Christmas Feeling”. The song says “When the days of December are numbered, And the earth begs it’s snowflakes to fall…, That’s the time of the year that Christmas is here, With peace and goodwill for all. How I love that Christmas feelin’, How I treasure its friendly glow, See the way a stranger greets you, Just as though you’d met him Christmas’s ago! Christmas helps you to remember, To do what other folks hold dear…, What a blessed place the world would be, If we had that Christmas Feelin’ all year!


On September 6, 1950, Bing Crosby also recorded a song entitled “That Christmas Feeling”. That song says “I love that Christmas feeling, It does my heart so much good, Strangers I meet all seem like friends, And the world's just a neighborhood. So, here's to the joy of Christmas, Here's to the ones I hold dear, May you have that Merry Christmas feeling, All through a happy New Year.


On June 10, 1966, Elvis Presley recorded the song “If Everyday Was Like Christmas”. That song states “I hear the bells, Saying Christmas is near, They ring out to tell the world, That this is the season of cheer. I hear a choir, Singing sweetly somewhere, And a glow fills my heart, I'm at peace with the world, As the sound of their singing fills the air. Oh, why can't every day be like Christmas, Why can't that feeling go on endlessly, For if every day could be just like Christmas, What a wonderful world this would be. I hear a child, Telling Santa what to bring, And the smile upon his tiny face, Is worth more to me than anything. Oh, why can't every day be like Christmas, Why can't that feeling go on endlessly, For if every day could be just like Christmas, What a wonderful world this would be.


Why can’t every day be like Christmas? Strangers you meet all seem like friends and the world's just a neighborhood. See the way a stranger greets you, just as though you’d met him Christmas’s ago! The word “CHRISTMAS” is a very powerful word. So powerful in it’s meaning, that cease fires were declared during times of war and conflicts around the world throughout the years, so that mankind could honor and celebrate this very special day in their own personal way. On Christmas Day, harmony among mankind is shared by many with the very first gift that was given on the very first Christmas Day, LOVE!


If there was ever a time that we need the true Christmas Spirit in our society every day of the year, that time would be right now! In all my years of life, I have never witnessed a time such as the present where mankind has turned against one another. The world has always experienced conflict, but I have never seen such a time when we need “That Christmas Feeling”, 24 hours per day, 365 days per year. The true Spirit of Christmas, the true meaning of Christmas is rapidly losing its very foundation across the world, and the time is now to preserve for future generations.


Unfortunately, mankind cannot turn on forms of technology today (that was invented to make our lives happier and more productive) without being blasted with forms of hate, greed, deception and destruction. In my opinion, it is only a matter of time before we lose the Spirit of Christmas as a society at Christmas time alone, destroying all hope of carrying out that Christmas feeling throughout the year. This cannot happen while on our watch!


Personally, I have decided to turn the news media off, surround myself with the true meaning of Christmas each and every day and seek out new friends who love Christmas as much if not more than I do and form a club and surround myself with those who desire change and bring back the true meaning of Christmas and everything associated with lighting up a dark and cold world with the bright warm glow of CHRISTMAS. Through the formation of a Christmas Club, gathering together likeminded enthusiast, joining the skills, gifts and talents each of us have been given in order to preserve precious memories and traditions so that they may be passed on to generations to come while at the same time, building never-ending friendships.


For this reason and this reason alone, I would like to organize a club, the "ILLIANA CHRISTMAS CLUB”, with the sole purpose of coming together to create a “Christmas Land” right here in East-Central Illinois and West-Central Indiana, utilizing the ideas, suggestions, gifts and talents from each and every person who combines forces in joining such a club. What is Christmas Land? Well, that will be determined and developed by club members using each idea, suggestion, gift and talent of every club member. For those who have never been asked or included in developing something for the good of mankind, this will be your grand opportunity. Everyone has something to give through an idea, suggestion, gift and/or talent and this will be your opportunity to let your Christmas Light Shine all year long!


However, first item on the agenda, organize and establish the “ILLIANA CHRISTMAS CLUB”, gathering together enthusiast of Christmas from across our area of the United States of America and beyond. No one will be rejected and/or turned away for any reason, allowing each club members Christmas light to shine in forming our common bond, the love of Christmas by bringing back the true meaning of Christmas while preserving memories and traditions and passing them on from generation to generation. What better time to launch a club dedicated to such a preservation project than during the month of July, the month we celebrate the birth of the United States of America, the month we celebrate our independence and of course, Christmas in July when Music Choice on Comcast and other providers play Christmas music on their “Sounds of the Season” channel, Hallmark shows Christmas movies on both of their TV channels and the home shopping networks host Christmas décor sales in preparation for the upcoming season. Just as a reminder, Hallmark is currently playing Christmas movies on Thursday and Friday evenings in honor of their 10th anniversary.


Random Thought’s / Ideas / Comments For Discussion


● Organize a three day / two-night motorcoach trip to Pigeon Forge, Tennessee – September 3-5, 2019 (as a club “get to know each other” adventure) checking into The Inn at Christmas Place, shopping at the Incredible Christmas Place year-round Christmas store, dining as a group at Paula Deen’s Family Kitchen at The Island and allowing plenty of “on your own” time to relax or explore Pigeon Forge and Gatlinburg.


Note: For those of you who have already experienced The Inn at Christmas Place and The Incredible Christmas Place year-round Christmas Store in Pigeon Forge, wouldn’t the Urbana Landmark Hotel (formerly Jumer’s Castle Lodge) located in downtown Urbana, Illinois (currently closed and for sale, attached to the Lincoln Square Mall) make an excellent duplicate of The Inn at Christmas Place with its Bavarian interior and exterior? There would be plenty of square footage for a year-round Christmas Store where the Conference Center was located.

 

● Organize a three day / two-night motorcoach trip to Frankenmuth, Michigan – November 19-21, 2019 (as a club “get to know each other” adventure) checking into The Holiday Inn Express & Suites, shopping at Bronner’s Christmas Wonderland, dining as a group at Zehnder’s Family Restaurant and allowing plenty of “on your own” time to relax or explore Frankenmuth (Michigan’s Little Bavaria) as you wish.


● In launching such a club, I would like to recruit volunteers immediately following the first club meeting to form a Steering Committee. This committee would consist of club members who first, have extra time on their hands to commit to steering the club and second, are the true 365 Why Can’t Every Day Be Like Christmas enthusiast. Some club members will truly want to participate in all activities but will be restricted due to careers and other obligations. Some members may only be interested during the Christmas Season. The Steering Committee would coordinate and develop the club for the overall enjoyment of each member so that everyone may participate in each activity and would free up time during regular club meetings in the coordination thereof, completing preparations for the final decision during each club meeting allowing each member to contribute their input. For example, would we want to consider the requirements to qualify the club as a 501(c)(3) organization so that we may support community outreach projects throughout the year and not only during Christmas time? Other items would be to officially adopt a club name, club logo and to create and develop the club mission and vision statements for overall membership approval in addition to the frequency of club meetings, venues, dates and times with every attempt possible in scheduling so that as close to 100% attendance is achieved leaving no member isolated or with the feeling that their participation and/or contribution is not wanted. In summary, as with any organization, the Steering Committee would conduct the research and leg work therefore providing for a much less stressful and more enjoyable club meeting experience. The Steering Committee would be open to all club members wanting to make a real difference in our society reference creating “That Christmas Feeling” all throughout the year while preserving the true Spirit of Christmas.

  

● We are going to need members with special skills to promote the club. I would like to see one club member skilled in graphic design, create the club logo for apparel, letterhead, envelopes, business cards, postcards, signage, website and social media. Another club member would be needed to design and maintain a club website. Other members would be needed to create and maintain social media sites such as Facebook, Twitter, etc. utilizing every available method to recruit new members and publicize our purpose, events and monthly newsletter.


● Christmas enthusiast from all walks of life will be needed in this club. From current business owners to future business dreamers, from news reporters and radio announcers to social media posters, members from other organizations who host Christmas events to keep us informed, to the retired Grandpa who I enjoy watching every year at Home Depot, Lowes and Menards checking out the latest in exterior illumination to surprise the grandkids and to impress the neighbors of course! (smile). Plus, I hope that we will have students from the University of Illinois join us representing other countries, allowing us to share and learn about Christmas traditions in other parts of the world. Christmas in the Philippians. WOW!


● We are going to need numerous artisans in this club. Those who would not only be interested in marketing their handmade crafts but would be willing to teach club members something they have always wanted to learn. In my family, we are wanting to learn more about creating artificial flower arrangements for Christmas. Personally, I am seeking an artist to add some Pfaltzgraff Winterberry accent to a Grandfather Pendulum Wood Wall Clock I recently restored and painted apple red. I would also like to find someone who makes Christmas cutouts from plywood as I would like to purchase large Candy Canes, Stockings plus trees as used in Georgetown, Illinois during their Annual Holiday Gathering event.


● The overall goal of this club must be the preservation of the true Spirit of Christmas from “Generation to Generation” as previously mentioned. Therefore, we MUST have as many SENIOR ADULT MEMBERS as humanly possible in order to capture, cultivate and preserve their precious nostalgic memories of Christmas past. Some of the greatest Christmas songs were created during the 1940’s, 50’s, 60’s and 70s during times of war and other great difficulties this nation and the world has faced. Many great sacrifices were made during these times and years prior that attacked the very core of what many call family traditions at Christmas. Recently, Tom Kacich from the News Gazette wrote about a blue Christmas back in 1918 here in Champaign-Urbana and if you missed it, it appeared on 12/16/18. Please view another excellent article written by Tom on 12/20/17. We are reminded to be thankful through Tom’s words!


● Taking this from 1918 to 2018 when little five-year-old Emilia Hibbs from Urbana asked her father Byron Hibbs if she could gather everyone around a Christmas tree to sing Christmas carols just as they did in Whoville on “How the Grinch Stole Christmas”. The dream of Emilia Hibbs became reality with the help of her dad and Jim Webster, owner of Lincoln Square Mall in downtown Urbana, Illinois as each person joined together and formed a large circle around the gigantic Lincoln Square Mall Christmas Tree just like they did in Whoville. With Emilia wanting to make this an annual event, how could such a newly formed organization such as the ILLINA CHRISTMAS CLUB come in behind this little one to support her in making this an even larger event in 2019 so that her dream will become a community tradition for years to come? Generation to Generation!


● With the mention of the true Spirit of Christmas in reaching out to the community, it is truly awesome watching everyone pitch in and support the numerous toy drives that take place in our area. However, something amazing caught our eye last December when WCIA did two feature stories interviewing Jodi Eeten and Holly York on two separate Christmas projects they coordinate for senior adults in need and have no one to offer them Christmas gifts. These two young ladies have hearts of gold and I am hoping that they will join the Christmas Club and provide valuable information on how we as a club could come in and support them and others who reach out to senior adults who have no one to wish them a Merry Christmas. Another WCIA feature story covered what has become an annual Christmas Day tradition at the First Christian Church in Champaign. This tradition features Lynne Barnes, another young lady with a heart of gold who founded and coordinates an annual Community Christmas Dinner reaching out to those who would otherwise be sitting at home alone on this special day. The success of this outreach has been overwhelming each and every year not only for those attending, but also for those serving as volunteers. However, with the mention of the above three awesome outreaches, I still wonder if there are any remaining voids still to be met in our area? For example, the unknown senior citizen who has a need but has no one to ask or someone who does not feel adequate to participate and would rather suffer at home alone in lieu of risking the fear of rejection. Do you know of such a person?

  

● Since 1996, German American Events, Inc. has been holding an event in Chicago at Christmas time called Christkindlmarket. In 2018, the event was held at the Daley Plaza, Wrigleyville at Gallagher Way, Naperville at Naper Settlement and at the Fiserv Forum in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. In Naperville alone, an estimated 235,000 visitors walked through the market in 2018 over a 21-day period and due to parking issues and merchant complaints, Christkindlmarket will not be returning to Naperville in 2019. The Daley Plaza location welcomes more than 1,000,000 visitors annually.


Using Christkindlmarket as an example, what type of Christmas celebration, festival or market could the club develop between Thanksgiving and Christmas each year? In connection with such a month-long event (either on a daily or maybe just weekends to start) what type of Christmas light display could we create such as the Annual East Peoria Festival of Lights? We always look forward to AMBUCS Park on Illinois Route 150 (University Avenue) in Urbana. What would otherwise be a dark area, the volunteers of AMBUCS light the park up for the motorist passing by.

   

● Both Santa & Mrs. Claus will very much be needed as “official” members of the ILLIANA CHRISTMAS CLUB. In fact, I sure hope they read this page, but should they miss it and you see them, please be sure to invite them to our very first club meeting.


● Organize a one-day motorcoach trip to Lafayette, Indiana – December 7, 2019 (as a club “get to know each other” adventure) for the 2019 Purdue Christmas Show and on the way home, stop and have dinner together at the Beef House in Covington, Indiana.


● Organize one-day motorcoach trips to Dinner Theaters and other destinations of interest all year round.


● Build a float and enter numerous parades all year round promoting the ILLIANA CHRISTMAS CLUB and “THAT CHRISTMAS FEELING” all year long.


● Organize a club choir for Christmas Caroling, appearing through-out the region complete with Victorian Dickens Caroler costumes. Or, maybe just some good old-fashioned Christmas Caroling like we used to do? Please take a moment and look at (Andre Rieu – Jingle Bells) on YOUTUBE. On the front porch of his home with his orchestra and 

all his neighbors! THIS IS WHAT I AM TALKING ABOUT! GO GET 'EM ILLIANA CHRISTMAS CLUB!


● Do you remember the black wrought iron Christmas decorations with the red candles the City of Champaign used to attach to the street light poles in downtown Champaign? Do you remember back in 1992 when both the Cities of Champaign and Urbana first outlined the tops of each downtown building in clear white C-9’s for Christmas? Do you remember when the City of Champaign used to change the color of the tower top at City Hall from clear white to red and green for Christmas just like in the big cities? Do you remember when Downtown Danville (North Vermilion Street) was an open-air shopping mall from Main Street to Harrison Street? Do you remember the red Santa Claus house at Christmas time that sat on the mall on the south side of the North Vermilion and North Street intersection? It had a picture window and showed the elves working inside. Do you remember at Christmas time, the elves working away in the huge window of First National Bank in Georgetown, Illinois? I would give anything to see pictures of these scenes and more when the area was fully decorated at Christmas in order that future generations could see the way we were. There are numerous precious Christmas memories that future generations will never know, if we do not preserve them. WHY DID WE CHANGE?


● Organize a Veteran’s Day Parade with an annual “I’ll Be Home For Christmas” theme. A daytime parade honoring “ALL” Veteran’s for their service and for each Christmas they missed with their families. Such an event would allow organizations the opportunity to use their floats in multiple area Christmas parades thereafter. In addition, assisting local coordinator Tammy Williams with "Wreaths Across America" at the Danville, Illinois National Cemetery and then visiting and caroling with the veterans at the VA Hospital located next to the cemetery.


● As previously mentioned, there are numerous toy drives at Christmas time in East-Central Illinois and West-Central Indiana. However, what about the single mom or single dad who has a career and is doing their very best but always comes up a little short at Christmas time and their income disqualifies them from receiving assistance. What void could a brand-new organization called ILLIANA CHRISTMAS CLUB fill?



Notes


For those of you who have already experienced Frankenmuth, Michigan, think on this. For everyone who has watched the movie Christmas Land on The Hallmark Channel, think about riding in the horse drawn carriage in the middle of the street moving toward where they had the Christmas tree lighting ceremony and looking into the different shops on each side of the street. Now, think about the former Amishland Big Red Barn in Tuscola, Illinois next to the Outlet Mall. Do you remember the original plans for the vacant land between the Outlet Mall and The Red Barn? The original plan was to build another big red barn and turn it into a Nashville Grand Ole Opry so to speak. It was an excellent dream that never came to pass. Why? In my opinion and only my opinion, location, location, location. Please do not get me wrong, Tuscola, Illinois is a wonderful town full of caring people, but the “newness” slowly wore off amongst locals and lacked what it needed to continuously recreate itself. More on this later. Do you remember the layout of the Big Red Barn? Do you recall the buffet restaurant when the Big Red Barn first opened? If I remember correctly, the original buffet restaurant was located in Atwood, Illinois and it was all homemade and IT WAS AWESOME! I recall taking a tour group there just before it relocated to Tuscola and the folks could not stop talking about it. They appreciated the Amish women so much after that trip and could not get over the taste of the food that was made from scratch. What I remember most from that stop in Atwood, the beef ribs! In addition to the Amish Buffett Restaurant, do you remember the numerous small building facades serving as store fronts making it look like a small town in the country with red brick paved roads complete with street lights and signs. It was truly AMISHLAND, and it was a brilliant concept! Hats off to the founders!


Now, back to the topic of location and the need for continuous marketing. Here in Champaign-Urbana, Illinois, we are blessed with three major interstates (I-57, I-72 and I-74) coming to and/or running through the twin cities. After investing 30+ years in the travel and tour industry with many of those years in management, I would train motorcoach operators on one simple safeguard to follow. If you cannot see it from the interstate (regardless what the blue exit sign states) continue to the next exit until you actually see what you and your Tour Guide are seeking making sure it is in a well-lit and populated area. The location also serves as a major marketing tool that will provide for easy access for tourist just passing through, tourist who are already in the area for another occasion and of course, local residents who frequent because of reputation. Three different sources of foot traffic combined with three different directions of travel wrapped around people who are seeking a “happy place” experience for their entire family.

 

These are my thoughts on paper to the point of draining myself of all ideas so that I do not have to speak, just listen at our first club meeting allowing everyone else to express themselves. However, just imagine this. I am a dreamer and a “BIG” dreamer at that. (Just wait until you meet me for the first time)! But think about this. With the amount of north/south, east/west and southwest traffic entering Champaign-Urbana, Illinois, imagine a Big Red Barn on the northeast corner of the Interstate 74 and Illinois Route 45 interchange or on the northwest corner of Interstate 57 and Interstate 74 interchange with the words CHRISTMAS LAND on it. A huge red barn complete with Grandma’s House (a family style restaurant with some of the best “made from scratch” home cooking you have every enjoyed other than your very own Granny at a price that equals the amount of time it took to prepare such a meal. A meal that calls out to you so when you ask your spouse what they want for dinner tonight, they quickly respond “Let’s go to Grandma’s House at Christmas Land” and while sitting at your table, a waitress or waiter dressed as a Grandma or Grandpa brings you a Sunday afternoon dinner just as you remember your own Grandmother or even your own mother served you). Precious memories!


Do you have what it takes to open such a restaurant? DO YOU HAVE A DREAM? A restaurant with Grandma’s recipes that would demand five-star excellence in “made from scratch” meals that guests would very quickly send out reviews across the entire country advising travelers that when passing through Champaign-Urbana, Illinois, they must stop at Grandma’s House for a home cooked meal. If so, what is stopping you? If you are like me, going at it ALONE!


Thinking about the movie CHRISTMAS LAND on The Hallmark Channel and each of the little shops on both sides of the street, WHAT IS YOUR DREAM? What is your gift, talent and skill based on a Christmas theme that could be used in opening a shop? I recall a bakery making Christmas cookies, a home-made candy store and an ice-cream shop. What about a florist and/or a shop that makes wreaths for every holiday through-out the year or an artist gallery full of Christmas themed paintings? The list of specialty shops is endless with each complimenting a Christmas themed experience that guests would enjoy and feel as though they have just walked into Christmas Eve each time they enter through the main doors. In addition to a big red barn full of Christmas themed shops and of course, Grandma’s House for lunch & dinner, that alone cannot make up CHRISTMAS LAND. What about a Christmas themed lodge attached to the big red barn for Christmas enthusiast to stay overnight and enjoy a Christmas experience 365 days per year complete with entertainment and a country style breakfast buffet each morning? Also attached, a dinner theater with only the finest “family-friendly” concerts and shows available providing both local and those from across the USA the opportunity to bring their talents and “That Christmas Feeling” to CHRISTMAS LAND. What about a Saturday evening Big Band Dinner & Dance just like back in the day? The key would be positioning the dinner theater and of course Grandma’s House in such a way that would cause each guest to enter and exit through the main barn door ensuring that they view every Christmas specialty shop either while entering or exiting CHRISTMAS LAND plus attaching the Lodge which would provide its guests with climate-controlled access to and from the main barn. For the younger ones at heart, do not forget about the Merry-Go-Round complete with Christmas organ music and decor and you cannot have Christmas without a huge model train layout that will mesmerize enthusiast for hours. And obviously, a year-round Christmas Store filled with Christmas décor and merchandise not found in other area stores.

   

CHRISTMAS LAND as described above is a dream and only a dream. However, I firmly believe that no ONE man or real estate firm could or should do this on their own. I believe CHRISTMAS LAND would be a grand opportunity for many hands with many talents to come together as ONE in creating an Old Fashion Christmas experience allowing each enthusiast to bring their piece of the puzzle, their piece of the pie so to speak to form a whole and complete product and/or experience. What is your dream that would complete the missing piece of the overall CHRISTMAS LAND experience?


IF WE BUILD IT, THEY WILL COME!


Until then, together, what can we do TODAY as the ILLIANA CHRISTMAS CLUB to get started?


Looking forward to meeting each of you at our first club meeting.


Merry Christmas!


Alan


PS: If for some reason you decide not to join the ILLIANA CHRISTMAS CLUB or the club fails to organize due to lack of interest and you decide to use some of the ideas expressed above or even launch a business, you have our total support because we all win. You will have a business and we will have a new place to visit when we need “That Christmas Feeling”!


The first club meeting of the ILLIANA CHRISTMAS CLUB will be a “meet and greet” gathering and will be held in the Grand Prairie Conference Center at the brand-new Holiday Inn located at 101 Trade Center Drive in Champaign, Illinois (directly behind The Ribeye Steakhouse near the Neil & Kirby intersection) on Sunday, July 14, 2019 at 2:00pm. Note: Please park in the lot across the street from the Holiday Inn located on South State Street and enter through the Conference Center entrance.


This meeting is for EVERYONE who loves “THAT CHRISTMAS FEELING” all year long providing opportunities to contribute ideas, suggestions, skills, gifts and talents in developing this brand-new club. It takes time to plan Christmas, and the time is NOW!

If you have a young adult in your life (age 12 and up) that is mature for their age and

they love Christmas just as much as you do, please bring them with you. After all,

this is all about passing the torch, generation to generation. In just a few moments, 

you will be reading about a 12 year old boy associated with Christmas Land, LLC.

located in Altamont, New York. Volunteer of the Year Award!    


A Christmas decorated cake and punch will be served.


Since this first club meeting will be held in the month of July,

wearing a Christmas sweater may be out of the question.

However, please feel free to wear red and green.  


So that we have ample conference room space for everyone to

be seated comfortably plus making sure we have more than 

enough cake and punch to send an extra piece home,

please RSVP before Wednesday July 10th:

First name and total number of guests only:

[email protected]

or

(217) 840-1175

VOICEMAIL LINE ONLY


Note: Pending the location of club membership across the Illiana area following the first club meeting,

could possibly result in a traveling club meeting from month to month across the Illiana area in order

to be fair to all club members in their travels. Which could also make it more interesting in a variety

of Illiana scenery, increase new membership participation and most important, the FOOD!


What Is Your Christmas Story?


In an attempt to get to know one another and share why we each love Christmas so much that we honor it all year long, let’s start the ball rolling by sharing our first “Why I Love Christmas Story” in hopes that over the coming months, each of you who choose to join will do the same. Please understand, I do not want to bring attention to myself by telling you my story or fully identifying myself prior to our first club meeting as I do not want this to be about ME! I just want everyone to feel free to share their story and feel welcome to participate on their comfort level when joining the Illiana Christmas Club as we each share this strong common bond through Christmas. I want everyone to feel free and welcome to bring their thoughts as “together” we develop this brand-new organization. If we all love Christmas, then we will all have something to bring to the table at each club meeting, no different than several of the Hallmark Christmas movies when folks approach the main character offering to take ownership of a certain task while organizing community festivals, celebrations and gatherings at the various lodges.


Why I Love Christmas - My Story


Greetings, my name is Bob, I am 55 years old and I LOVE CHRISTMAS! The Spirit of Christmas “year-round” has hit me so hard that for the past two years, I have started each day listening to instrumental Christmas music on my phone in lieu of turning on the news, while preparing for the day. My interest in Christmas started with decorating at a very young age growing up in a cul-de-sac in a small town located in East-Central Illinois where nine homes formed a circle and each home exterior was decorated for Christmas, except ours. My biological father was more interested in drinking alcohol and watching TV on his days off from work, than taking care of our home and participating in a healthy competition with the other men in our neighborhood on who could have the nicest manicured lawn, the cleanest home exterior and of course, the brightest Christmas light display. I respected and admired these men so much, watching their methods, skills and determination that by the time I turned the age of twelve, on my own, I decided that our home should look as nice as the other eight and you guessed it, Christmas 1976 was the launch of my Christmas exterior illumination hobby. Every dime I earned mowing lawns over the summertime and then from part-time jobs while in high school and college, I invested into exterior improvements, landscaping and of course, Christmas lights and decorations.

 

One of the men in our cul-de-sac was a General Contractor who built homes and one November, he made large Christmas Stockings out of plywood, painted them red with a white top and stenciled the last name of each family in white and attached them to each neighbor’s mailbox. Thank you Deane, it was awesome! It was the very next year that I took his lead and adopted the red & white color theme and went out and purchased several boxes of solid red & white C9 & C7 GE bulbs. I mixed in clear mini white lights on the bushes as they were just beginning to become popular that year. In addition to the lights, I purchased artificial evergreen garland and red bows and continued to add something each year that complimented the red & white theme.


Directly east of our street, was another cul-de-sac full of neighbors who loved Christmas so much, that they named their street and cul-de-sac “Candy Cane Lane” and lined their street with large candy canes cut out of plywood, painted with red & white stripes. Placed on the lawn of the first home at the entrance of the street & cul-de-sac was a large sign painted red & white with a message welcoming each visitor to “Candy Cane Lane”. Well, our home was in the same position at the entrance of our cul-de-sac, so I took their idea, made a slightly larger red & white sign (smile) and took it to a professional sign painter and had him paint a winter wonderland scene with the message “Merry Christmas from Mocking Bird Hill” (an unofficial name given to our cul-de-sac years prior), and placed it on the corner of our lot with a flood light in front.


As my hobby continued in Christmas décor, so did my desire to decorate more than just my own home. Next, I went on to my Grandmother’s home, our church and after college, a local business owner and his wife who lived on Candy Cane Lane requested me to decorate their home as they had just had their lawn freshly landscaped. Their favorite colors were blue & white and I started from scratch with a brand-new design and supplies. The home owners showed me what areas they wanted decorated and I went to work with a quick trip to Menards and Prairie Gardens in Champaign for materials. With this being the first year, the materials came close to $300.00 and I was scared to death to give them the receipts. I decorated their home for three straight years before relocating from the area and even though I did not expect a dime in compensation because I enjoyed decorating so much, they blessed me abundantly each year.


Over the past 40 plus years, my love for Christmas has increased with each passing year adding to my collection of Christmas décor to the current inventory of 50 fifty-five-gallon totes plus 6 artificial trees, wall art, a 60-inch exterior wreath and a lawn sign wishing everyone a "Merry Christmas From Our House To Your House". Even though I have everything inventoried and I know were I purchased each item, I have no idea of its dollar value for insurance purposes. To be honest, I could care less of its value compared to knowing where in the United States I purchased the item and where in the house it is to be displayed. After investing over 30 years in the travel & tour industry, prior to coming off the road and entering into management, I would seek out year-round Christmas stores while on my trips and make a purchase which would represent my visit to that area of the United States. Well, 50 fifty-five-gallon totes later!!! In 1998, I picked up the then Vice-President of Walmart at a regional airport near Saint Charles, Illinois and chauffeured him along with 21 members of the regional and district management team from northern Illinois transporting them from store to store across the greater Chicagoland area for three days conducting unannounced inspections on numerous Walmart stores. It was the first week of October and all Christmas décor had to be up and in full stock by the end of that week according to then corporate standards. The Christmas décor at Walmart was different back in the 80’s and 90’s with what seemed to be a higher quality and included blow-molds. Out of the twelve stores that we visited, and after a personal review of each stores seasonal department, I made a purchase at each store representing my visit to that city and/or suburb. After the last store inspection on the third day and while enroute back to the airport, the Vice-President who always sat behind me leaned forward and asked, we all noticed that you purchased several items from our Christmas shops during our tour, do you not have a Walmart near where you live? I quickly acknowledged that we did, but I then advised him that the purchases of Christmas décor I made at each of the twelve stores were unique for that store and I purchased an item that I did not locate at a previous store. I then stated to him that the items I purchased I had not seen at the Walmart near my home therefore proving that not all Walmart Stores were identical in stock at that time. I realize that things were different back in 1998 compared to what they are in 2019, but would you believe, that Vice-President truly appreciated the information I provided to him about my experiences and upon our arrival back to the airport, he reached into his pocket, took out his money clip, reached out and shook my hand and placed that money clip into my palm and stated, “I love Christmas too”! I will never forget that experience and I still have most of those items today and they still look like new.


While on the road in the 80’s and 90’s, year-round Christmas stores were very popular prior to the recent recession but Christmas is making a major comeback. In 2017 and 2018, I wanted to take my family back to some of those places where I made purchases in years past. These places included Bronner’s Christmas Wonderland located in Frankenmuth, Michigan where we have visited for the past two Fourth of July holidays. I first met Wally Bronner in November of 1998 during my first visit and had my photo taken with him in front of a large nativity scene, a photo for which I will always cherish. Both Wally and Irene Bronner as well as the entire Bronner family are well known around the world for their love for Christmas and what God has done through their lives. Their current property is the size of six and a half football fields and since relocating to their current location in 1977, they have expanded twice in 1991 and again in 2002. This is the largest Christmas Store in the entire world. Wally and Irene Bronner followed their dream and passed that dream on to the entire Bronner Family to carry on from Generation to Generation.


While on this trip, we also stopped at Olde World Canterbury Village located in Lake Orion, Michigan and visited their Always Christmas store and Department 56 store where they had a huge display and selection of products. Talk about finding a gem in the middle of nowhere! Their Department 56 display reminded me so much of JBJ’s formerly of Champaign and Just Ducky formerly of Naperville. Miss them both!

 

Over the 2018 Labor Day holiday, we traveled to Pigeon Forge, Tennessee and stayed at The Inn at Christmas Place and shopped at The Incredible Christmas Place store across the street. What an experience! The Incredible Christmas Place was established in 1986 by Hurshel and Marian Biggs and is the largest Christmas Store in the South. On Tuesday evening, the in-house Santa Claus (Dean Townsend) known as the Singing Santa of The Inn at Christmas Place provided us with a Christmas Concert opening with the song, “If Every Day Was Like Christmas” as previously mentioned. My mother was sitting next to me and her jaw dropped as she very quickly fell in love with Santa Claus all over again. A very special man providing a precious memory that we will never forget. Another memory, the bountiful country breakfast buffet they serve each morning prepared fresh by Chef Chelsea and her staff. It was second to none and if we were not already stuffed from the breakfast buffet, we later enjoyed a family style dinner at Paula Deen’s Family Kitchen at The Island just down the street. The food on this trip was awesome! Hurshel and Marian Biggs followed their dream back in 1986 and passed that dream on to the entire Biggs Family to carry on from Generation to Generation with the opening of The Inn at Christmas Place in 2007 (a four-star hotel) conveniently located together on Christmas Tree Lane.


On our return trip back to Illinois, we stopped in Santa Claus, Indiana and did some shopping at the Santa Claus Christmas Store and enjoyed another Christmas experience. On a side note, we wished we had included a stop at Noah’s Ark located in Williamstown, Kentucky for an added bonus to our trip.


Finally, in 2018 over the Thanksgiving holiday, we traveled to Branson, Missouri and shopped at the Kringles Christmas Shop adding to my collection. On the way to Branson, we stopped at the Kmart in Springfield, Illinois knowing it would be closing on December 31st and purchased a snowman with 2018 embroidered on it representing the last Kmart Store in downstate Illinois. We also stopped in Hannibal, Missouri to visit their year-round Christmas store at Sawyer’s Creek only to discover it had closed. (Only wish someone had updated their website). From Hannibal, we headed to our hotel in Saint Charles, Missouri and did some shopping at Mid-Rivers Mall in Saint Peters and spent the next morning walking the streets of historic Saint Charles. Our two favorite shops, The Flower Peddler which was transformed into all Christmas and spent way too much money and enjoyed a great visit with the owner and learned valuable information reference Christmas retail and then on to Grandma’s Cookies where we enjoyed some of the greatest cookies I have ever tasted and stocked up for the remainder of the trip. Following Saint Charles, we traveled straight to Carthage, Missouri and toured the home of Precious Moments. The last time I was there in August of 1998, the founder Sam Butcher was at the top of the Chapel laying on his back on scaffolding working on the ceiling finishing another beautiful painting. It was awesome seeing the Chapel and the other areas of the grounds totally complete 20 years later. Artist Sam Butcher followed his dream!


At the completion of our Christmas journey, I began to reflect on what we had just experienced traveling across the United States and what we witnessed first hand seeing hundreds of people (young and old) light up as they entered the Christmas stores and participated in the various activities and festivals. During our stay in Pigeon Forge at The Inn at Christmas Place, we met a wonderful retired couple from Atlanta, Georgia as we were finishing with breakfast. The man could have been a twin brother to Martin Sheen. In fact, so much so that I approached him and asked if anyone had told him that he looked like Martin and he and his wife smiled and responded, “all the time”! This sparked a conversation as the older couple asked if we had been to The Inn before, and we responded that this was our first visit. They began to share that they were frequent guests because this was their “happy place”. The previous Sunday afternoon both were feeling a little low while walking out of church and looked at each other and said, Let’s go to “Christmas Place”! They did not care that it was the Labor Day holiday at the beginning of September, they just wanted to visit their “happy place”. So, they went home, made their reservations, packed their bags and off to Christmas Land they went. We met them after two days at The Inn and they both had smiles and were as joyful as they could possibly be. They experienced a taste of Christmas and they were good to go! With The Inn at Christmas Place being fully decorated for and celebrating Christmas 365 days per year, for many, it is like going into the hospital and coming out as good as new, totally refreshed.


Throughout 2018, I continued to conduct my Christmas research, seeking other locations within the United States with tourist attractions centered on Christmas year-round and I discovered the National Christmas Center located in Paradise, Pennsylvania in Lancaster County. Unfortunately, I discovered it after it had closed but was thankful to speak with the founder, James Morrison and the executive director, Mandy Brown and enjoyed the opportunity to get to know them. I cannot wait to meet them and also visit the completion of the relocation of the National Christmas Center along with several other attractions that will incorporate “The Barns of Belmont” at Stone Gables Estates in Elizabeth, Pennsylvania. This project is so large, it will take three years to complete. Stand in awe watching David and Tierney Abel build their dream, preserving history for future generations.


I also discovered Christmas Land, LLC. located in Altamont, New York founded by Paula Tambasco and Michelle Annese. Talk about a dream, WHAT A STORY! From their website, Facebook page and Twitter account, look what the dream of two ladies turned into. Joined by two partners, John and Suzanne DeVito, several volunteers and now numerous businesses, look what took place when two ladies shared their dream with others, launched their mission and while in the process, the dream became contagious and spread like only Christmas can do as one by one, others joined in offering their gifts, talents, suggestions, ideas, labor and offering to take ownership of a certain part of the operation growing the Spirit of Christmas over a few short years and even stocking and operating a full store with homemade COOKIES. As the old saying goes, “Many hands make the load lighter” and with a shared vision surrounded by excellence, look what has been accomplished. I even noted that one year, their volunteer of the year award went to a 12-year-old young man so dedicated that he was the first to arrive and the last to leave each day. Generations!


While searching the words Christmas Land on Facebook, I came across a post submitted by a friend of my sister whom she went to school with and I thought it was excellent. On her post, she encouraged others to copy and paste, so please let this message reach out and touch your heart:


Just some thoughts as we enter the Christmas season. It is important to remember that not everyone is looking forward to Christmas. Some people are not surrounded by large wonderful families. Some of us are having problems during Christmas and may be overcome with great sadness when we remember the loved ones who are not with us. For many it is their first Christmas without a particular loved one and many others lost loved ones at this time. And, many people have no one to spend these times with and are overcome with loneliness. We all need caring, loving thoughts right now. If I don't see your name, I'll understand. May I ask my friends wherever you might be, to kindly post this status for one hour to give a moment of support to all those who are having family troubles, health struggles, job issues, worries of any kind and just need to know that someone cares. Do it for all of us, for nobody is immune. I hope to see this on the walls of all my friends just for moral support. I did it for a friend and you can too!


This post speaks of loved ones who have gone on before us and many of them loved Christmas and passed on traditions and precious memories to those who now feel sorrow as the result of their loss. In memory of those loved ones who loved Christmas so, come and join us at this first club meeting and share those traditions and memories with us so that they may continue on and touch many lives for years to come. There are many and I mean many who have no idea on how to start Christmas traditions and/or create memories as the result of not having adults in their lives and/or examples to follow, and now they are adults, have children of their own and so much desire to provide for them “That Christmas Feeling” and offer more than just presents under the tree. The post also speaks of those who are overcome with loneliness during the Christmas season. Let’s join together and seek out those who are suffering from being alone and bring them with you to this first club meeting so that they may discover and contribute their ideas, skills, gifts and talents as we join together to share, create, organize and develop that Christmas feeling all throughout the year. Every human being has value and it is the responsibility of every human being to assist and support their fellow man in discovering what that value is and how to apply it.


The ILLIANA CHRISTMAS CLUB will be such a club that will assist and support their fellow man in discovering “That Christmas Feeling” paving the way for the question to be answered in each of our hearts, “Why Can’t Every Day Be Like Christmas”?


Merry Christmas!


Bob