JOLIET – Festival of the Gnomes is in its 40th year and does not seem to grow old.
Not when you ask a 9-year-old boy like Thomas Pawlowski of Joliet, who beamed at the opportunity to talk about the Gnomes show at Billie Limacher Bicentennial Park on Saturday.
“I like that they add something new every year,” said Pawlowski, who has been coming to the show for seven years.
Seven years is a long time, but Festival of the Gnomes is such a holiday tradition in Joliet that Pawlowski will have to keep coming for many years to match the attendance of his elders.
“It’s my 27th year,” said Christie Hatala of Oswego. She grew up in Joliet coming to Festival of the Gnome with her sister, Mindy Carman of Oswego, who also was there on Saturday.
“It’s a kind of tradition,” Hatala said. “I used to come with my grandma and aunt. Now I have kids, and we bring them every year.”
The tradition started at a time when gnomes were trending, and the illustrated book “Gnomes” by Wil Huygen featuring tales of the wee creatures was a popular Christmas gift.
The Festival of the Gnomes performance is a series of tales with interludes of gnome lore, which, like the book, has an appeal to both adults and children. It’s a basic script with stories of a poor woodsman, the first garden gnome and others that get new twists each year as the cast comes up with ideas.
‘Something for children’
The show this year includes a wry reference to the Wells Fargo credit card scandal of 2016, which likely eludes the children in the audience. But most of the show is aimed at the imaginations of the youngsters.
“This is something for children to believe in. It’s kind of nice” said Cheryl Foster of Joliet, who has been performing in the show for 36 years. “It gives them something that is simple. It’s something that’s clean. It’s something that lets them use their imagination.”
Clean, yes. But Thomas Pawlowski and his sister, Emily, 11, were quick to identify one of the best parts of the show.
“Snotgurgle,” they agreed, identifying the beast that tortures gnomes but makes a grand entrance into the show.
“He takes Silly String and goes around and sprays people,” Emily explained.
Which he did Saturday to the cries of delight from the audience as Snotgurgle ran up and down the aisles spraying Silly String wherever he went.
It’s not exactly a Christmas show, although Yuletide elements are included. But the theater lobby at Bicentennial Park is aglow with holiday atmosphere.
“Beautiful,” said Silvia Valdez of Joliet as she waited in the lobby with her three children for the theatre doors to open. “It gives you the Christmas spirit.”
Valdez said she enjoyed “the decorations, the warmth of the people, the atmosphere.”
Four flutists played Christmas music. Holiday cookies were for sale. Greenery and lights were strewn about. A gift shop offered crafted ornaments and, most importantly, gnome hats.
“You’ve got to have a hat,” said Char Squier of Joliet, who has volunteered at Festival of Gnomes for 20 years. “Every year, you come in and they put a tassel on it.”
Green or red tassels each year. Then a black tassel after 10 years and a gold one after 20.
People stood in line for tassels that were sewn onto their hats by two gnome seamstresses sitting in chairs by a fireplace.
Among those in line was Andrew Limacher, 16, whose great-grandmother, Billie Limacher, now 95, started Festival of the Gnomes with the late Georgiann Goodson, who was park manager at the time. Limacher, whose name is on the park, still is the park board’s president.
“It’s tradition,” said Andrew Limacher of Joliet, who has come to the show every year of his life. “We’ve been doing it with my family for a long time.”
Elana Carmine, 16, of Joliet has performed in the show every year of her life – the first year when she was a baby. Elana is the daughter of current Park Manager Lori Carmine, who also is in the show.
Elana said the “Festival of Gnomes” is about family and tradition, and it does fit the holiday season.
“We bring a lot of joy to our community,” she said.
Festival of the Gnomes has one more performance at 1 p.m. Sunday at Bicentennial Park, 201 W. Jefferson St. Tickets are $5.
If you go ...
What: Festival of the Gnomes
When: 1 p.m. Sunday
Where: Billie Limacher Bicentennial Park, 201 W. Jefferson St.
How much: $5
Visit this article at TheHerald-News.com for video from “Festival of Gnomes.”