Festival of the Gnomes is an annual Christmas season event held on the grounds of the scenic 10-acre Billie Limacher Bicentennial Park at 201 W. Jefferson Street on Bluff Street in downtown Joliet, Illinois. The Billie Limacher Bicentennial Theatre is located at 201 West Jefferson Street.
Since 1976, the day-long event offers a lobby filled with beautiful flute music, a gift shop showcasing unique “gnomemade” crafts, baked goods from the “cookie factory,” and unique soft-sculpture boy and girl gnome dolls raffled off each year (made by doll maker Sue Shetina from 1988-2014).
One of the traditions of the Festival are the gnome hats worn by all in attendance. First-time gnome attendees may purchase a gnome hat – red for boys and green for girls – that they may bring back each year. For every subsequent year in attendance, one of the lady gnomes gathered around the fireplace in the lobby will sew a tassel on the gnome cap for free.
For an attendee’s 10th anniversary show, the tassel is a dried moon beam (a black tassel) with a dried star (rhinestone) attached to it. The tassel is silver for the 20th anniversary and gold for the 30th.
Even the winners of the raffle dolls bring them back to the festival the next year to get tassel put on their dolls.
At the indoor theater, visitors are invited to a 90-minute musical show performed by a cast of all ages who celebrate the lore of the gnomes (the mythical wee folk from European folklore) and deliver holiday messages of doing good works for man and nature, sharing one’s blessings and believing in one’s self.
After the show, children are invited onto the stage to meet the gnomes in person and draw their own gnome to take home.
Characters in the play include Grandma Gnome, who likes to give packets of birdseed to feed the birds; the main hero, Kostja, the naughty gnome; the thankful couple in the “Poor Woodsman” scene; the hairy Snotgurgle and her evil trolls who lurk through the audience searching for gnomes, Tinker Gnome, an in inept inventor of gadgets, and the Gnome from Nome, Alaska and his friend the sea otter.
The show is largely inspired by materials found in from the book “Gnomes” (1976) by Will Huygen and Rien Poortvliet.
NOTE: There is also a Fairy Festival held in May at the Pilcher Park Nature Center at 2501 Highland Park Dr in Joliet, Illinois.
Festival of the Gnomes
Billie Limacher Bicentennial Park
201 W. Jefferson Street
Joliet, Illinois 60432.
Bicentennial Park (Website)