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‘This is Christmas in Geneva’

Kelley Nelshelps her daughter Sydney dress for her role as SantLuciChristmas Walk. | Photos by Denise Linke~For Sun-Times Media

Kelley Nelson helps her daughter Sydney dress for her role as Santa Lucia at Christmas Walk. | Photos by Denise Linke~For Sun-Times Media

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Updated: January 11, 2014 6:14AM

GENEVA — Sydney Nelson didn’t find Santa Lucia’s candle crown strange when she first put it on two years ago. After all, the fourth-generation Swedish-American blonde grew up with an antique candle crown from Sweden that’s been passed down in her family for decades, said her mother, Kelley Nelson.

“You can’t get much more Swedish than our family,” Kelley Nelson commented as she helped her daughter fasten her white Santa Lucia costume. “We observe a lot of Swedish Christmas customs, and we’ve been making pepparkakor [Swedish ginger snaps] long before we moved to Geneva.”

Sydney Nelson made her final appearance as Geneva’s Santa Lucia during the Christmas Walk celebration over the weekend. With attendants Anna Tegge, Hallie McQueeny, Elizabeth Gorenz and Emily Schmid, she welcomed Santa Claus onto the stage with Mayor Kevin Burns and led the countdown to light the city’s Christmas tree before joining the crowd to hand out pepparkakor.

“I really enjoy handing out the cookies,” she said. “It gets a little bit chaotic sometimes, and I feel bad when people grab a whole handful of cookies because we always run out and not everybody gets one. But people like to break a cookie in their hand [to see if they’ll have good luck in the coming year], and the little kids get really excited to see us. That’s the part I like best, because I came to Christmas Walk almost every year and I always loved to get a cookie from Santa Lucia or one of her attendants when I was little.”

Dozens of young children, bundled up against the frigid night air, ran and played in the middle of a blocked-off Third Street Friday evening. They clustered around Santa’s House at the corner of Third and James, knowing that the jolly old elf would soon be inside, hearing Christmas wishes and handing out candy canes. They resisted their parents’ attempts to bring them inside the Geneva History Center to warm up, preferring instead to drink free hot chocolate offered by several local merchants.

“Mommy, can we stay here until Christmas?” one preschooler begged.

The festival offered fun for older children, too.

“I’ve been coming to Christmas Walk since I was little, so it’s a tradition. But now I can hang out with my friends and walk up and down Third Street seeing what all the stores are doing,” observed 13-year-old Geneva resident Abby Lotterer as she waited for the tree lighting with friends Jay Bode and Harmony Reiner.

This year the stores did not disappoint. Several choirs and brass ensembles entertained passers-by on the sidewalks despite the bitter cold, while fashion models managed to hide their shivers as they paraded down the outdoor runway at Jane Pabon upscale consignment store. A drum circle of current and former Geneva Marching Band percussionists performed in front of Graham’s Chocolates to mark the production of the store’s first candy canes of the season, which spectators could watch being hand-pulled through the kitchen’s picture windows.

Trumpeters and a small boy dressed as Tiny Tim formally presented the very first cane to Burns before the tree lighting. Burns made sure the foot-long cane was “accidentally” shattered so he could share it with children in the crowd.

Holiday music abounded indoors, too. Harpists played by the fireside at the Geneva History Center and at The Little Traveler, which also hosted a brass quintet in its café. Several Third Street restaurants offered live music.

Burns said the event met his expectations.

“This isn’t just Christmas. This is Christmas in Geneva,” he asserted.

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