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Revelers warmed by holiday spirit in downtown Waukegan

Students from Waukegan grade schools perform holiday concert Genesee Theatre while parents photograph their children from their seats. | TINA

Students from Waukegan grade schools perform a holiday concert at the Genesee Theatre while parents photograph their children from their seats. | TINA JOHANSSON~FOR SUN-TIMES MEDIA

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Updated: January 10, 2014 6:25AM

Despite freezing temperatures, downtown Waukegan was in a jolly mood Saturday as people streamed in to participate in the annual Holiday Wauk.

An open fire at the Jack Benny Plaza with oak logs cracking warmed up the walkers, especially those with children. Volunteers from Waukegan Main Street, the Wauk’s principal sponsor, offered marshmallows and chocolate so that children could toast the treat on a stick on the fire.

“We do this every year because kids love it,” said Bret Schroeder, vice president of the Main Street Board.

Adding to the holiday atmosphere was a choir from Waukegan High School which performed right under the statue of Jack Benny. It left in the cold air such heart-warming notes as “We want to wish you a merry Christmas.” Diagonally across the street, a small Salvation Army Band played later with gusto.

Inside the venerable Genesee Theatre, the Winter Concert was in progress with performances by Glen Flora Elementary School, Benny Middle School, and Abbott Middle School — all schools in Waukegan.

Sitting in the audience was Ricky Lopez, whose daughter Juliana from Benny School was singing as a member of the school choir.

“I’m very proud of her,” said the father.

In the lobby of the theater, Sylvia Gonzalez was snapping pictures of her baby girl, Sofia, in front of a Christmas tree.

“I took the pictures so that we can remember that her brother, Sam Duran, sang in the choir from the Abbott School,” she said.

Next door at the Clockwise Theatre, puppies rescued by Kora’s Freedom Riders, were available for adoption.

“We have wonderful dogs for people to adopt,” said Madelyn Sergel, artistic director of Clockwise which hosted the event.

There were many other activities, including a craft workshop at the Karcher ArtSpace, writing of holiday cards to veterans at State Rep. Rita Mayfield’s office, a coloring contest, and cookie decorating. Refreshments were offered at several stores.

Waukegan Mayor Wayne Motley capped the Wauk with a tree-lighting ceremony at dusk at the Jack Benny Plaza to a shivering but cheering crowd when temperatures dipped into the single digits. He thanked the people for braving the cold to come downtown and the sponsors and volunteers to make the Wauk another success.

Many holiday revelers found their way into Big Ed’s, a restaurant known for its ribs and pulled pork.

Mark Strong took his wife Jeannie and their three children to the popular eatery to lunch before a photo session with Santa.

“We come for the Wauk every year. They have a lot of things for kids,” said Strong.

Ordering a round of food, he added, “It’s good to eat here because the food is great.”

As if to invite a snow fall, the Genesee Theatre featured “White Christmas” for its night show.

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