“2019 Christmastime Events at The Morton Arboretum,” by S.M. O’Connor

Illumination: Tree Lights at The Morton Arboretum in west suburban Lisle, Illinois began on Saturday, November 23, 2019 and will run through Sunday, January 5, 2020 (the twelfth and last day of Christmas). This is a chance for dendrophiles (tree-lovers) to walk down a paved path which is a little over a mile long, amidst trees illuminated by interactive multicolored lights, listen to music, warm up by a fire, drink a hot chocolate, and roast marshmallows for s’mores.  The first entry time is 4:30 p.m., the last entry time is 8:30 p.m., and the exhibit closes at 9:30 p.m.  This year, The Morton Arboretum debuted a new pathway for Illumination that is more spacious.  Illumination has a dedicated Facbook Webpage.  Invesco QQQ and ComEd are the sponsors of IlluminationIllumination was closed on November 25th, November 28th (Thanksgiving), and December 2nd.  It will be closed on December 9th, 24th (Christmas Eve), and 25th (the First Day of Christmas). In addition to the Illumination exhibit, there will be four dates in late December for Supper with Saint Nick: December 20th, 21st, 22nd, and 23rd

There are warming areas with fire pits along the Illumination path.  One can purchase dinner in the Visitor Center at the Gingko Restaurant and Café, including sandwiches, salads, and soups, as well as both alcoholic and non-alcoholic beverages.  Click here for the 2019 Dinner Menu.  In addition, one can purchase snacks and hot beverages (with optional cordials) in two concession tents located along the Illumination path.

Returning Favorites

  “Meadow Lake Magic has been enhanced with tendrils of light that change color in response to the wind as they meet on the water’s surface,” The Morton Arboretum stated in a press release.  “Symphony Woods, a joyful celebration set to well-known seasonal music and a beloved visitor favorite, has been refreshed with new music for 2019.”

The “Woodland Wonder” feature is coming back, too, but in a new location.  The Morton Arboretum stated, “[V]isitors… will be enveloped by a visual duet between thousands of luminous, rotating points of laser light and starlike sparkles from dozens of gently rotating mirror balls.”

Illumination’s axis is the “Champion Tree,” a honey locust.  The Morton Arboretum stated it is “Silhouetted by brilliant up-lighting.” 

On the “Crystal Promenade,” chandeliers light a conifer grove.  Visitors can press buttons to see lights and colors switch from tree to tree in the “Enchanted Forest.”  In “Treemagination,” visitors use a tree grove as a viewing screen that “features dramatic projections that drench the trees with saturated fields of color, amazing geometric patterns and simulated movement.”  The Illumination path ends in the “Fantasy Forest.”  Newly redesigned, it “energizes the Hedge Collection with music and spectacular dancing lights.”

The Crown of Light is returning.  Created by HYBYCOZO (The Hyperspace Bypass Construction Zone), the installation arts collective, it features five steel sculptures with laser-cut patterns that beams vivid, colorful lights. When weather permits, guests will be able to venture off the Illumination path to view the steel sculptures up close. 

Alexa and Joe, two of the giant wooden troll sculptures standing on the grounds for the temporary exhibit Troll Hunt, are lit up for Illumination.  Note that Troll Hunt will be open through June of 2020.

New in 2019

“Inspired by elements of the popular feature Treemagination,” The Morton Arboretum explained, “2019 marks the debut of Tree Fascination! A mixture of art and science, this experience uses video projection to showcase the beauty and form of trees using color and pattern.”

“To maximize the experience,” The Morton Arboretum continued, “a new route and expanded pathway and promenade will allow visitors to enjoy the displays at their own pace.  Illuminated words such as ‘Champion,’ ‘Tree,’ and ‘Breathe’ will guide and inspire visitors along the enhanced trail that is just over one mile in length.”

Also new this year are interactive experiences including “Hug-A-Tree,” “Tree Harmony,” and “Ornament Hill.”  With “Hug-A-Tree,” visitors who embrace the tree will see a response of pulsating light.  At “Tree Harmony,” visitors, whether individuals or groups, “can watch the lights glow and move to the sound of their singing.”  Visitors to “Ornament Hill” can “control the color of giant, glittering orbs.”

Morton Arboretum Illuminations 2016
Credit: The Morton Arboretum Caption: At “Meadow Lake,” The Morton Arboretum stated, “Hundreds of sensors capture the wind’s speed and direction and turn it into data, resulting in a ‘pixel cloud’ map that is used to control the floating lights. As the wind changes speed and direction, the lighting on the lake changes speed and direction, too.”
Credit: The Morton Arboretum Caption: The Morton Arboretum stated, “In a new, more secluded, location in a grove of sycamore trees, you will be enveloped by a visual interplay between thousands of luminous, rotating points of laser light and starlike sparkles from dozens of gently rotating mirror balls. This back-and-forth duet between the lights is inspired by the way a group of trees communicates beneath visitors’ feet, like the grove of sycamore trees that frame Woodland Wonder.”
Figure 3 Credit: The Morton Arboretum Caption: Along the path of Illumination: Tree Lights at The Morton Arboretum, one can purchase snacks and hot beverages (with optional cordials) in two concession tents, warm up by a crackling fire, drink a hot chocolate, and roast marshmallows for s’mores.

Santa Visits

Santa Visits are on Tuesdays in Advent.  The first one was last night, Tuesday, December 3, 2019.  The next two Santa Visits will be on Tuesday, December 10, 2019 and Tuesday, December 17, 2019. 

“Whether you’re visiting for the first time or as part of an annual tradition, Illumination 2019 combines traditional guest favorites with new experiences and re-imagined installations that are sure to delight everyone,” stated Sarah Sargent, Manager of Interpretation and Exhibits at The Morton Arboretum.

Tickets are $23 for adults and $15 for children.  For Members, tickets are $18 for adults and $10 for children.  Tickets are free for children under two (toddlers and infants). Click here to purchase tickets online or in person at the Visitor Center while The Morton Arboretum is open.  Alternatively, one can purchase tickets over the phone by calling (630) 725-2066 daily (excluding holidays) from 10:00 a.m. to 3:00 p.m.  Note that all phone orders and ticket exchanges incur a $5 transaction fee.  The Morton Arboretum is unable to accommodate same-day ticket orders over the phone.  [Please note that the ComEd BOGO offer had reached its limit and is no longer available.  To purchase tickets at the lowest price, become a Morton Arboretum Member.  Click here to become a Member.  Please also note that Member AnyDay Tickets sold out on December 13th.]  There is no additional parking fee but one should allow ten to fifteen minutes time to park one’s car and make one’s way to the entrance of Illumination outside the Visitor Center.

Regarding questions of accessibility, the trail is a one-mile-long walking path.  Click here to see the map of the 2019 Illumination path.  Walkers will ascend what The Morton Arboretum describes as “a large inline approximately halfway through the exhibition,” meaning Ornament Hill, “and several smaller inclines and declines.”

Consequently, The Morton Arboretum stated, “We advise guests to keep the length and hilly nature of the trail in mind.  The exhibition is not fully accessible to visitors with limited mobility.”  Click here to learn more about accessibility.

Morton Arboretum roads close prior to 3:00 p.m. as the staff prepares for Illumination. The Visitor Center closes at 4:00 p.m. and re-opens at 4:30 for Illumination.  Ticketholders cannot access the Visitor Center until the time listed on their Illumination tickets.

Click here to learn about renting the Arbor Court Pavilion for a Christmas or New Year’s party. The Arbor Court Pavilion can accommodate up to 150 people.  For a more intimate party, ask about the Cudahy Room.  Call (630) 725-2190 to reserve space for rentals.

Suppers with Saint Nick

There will be four dates in late December for Supper with Saint Nick: Friday, December 20, 2019; Saturday, December 21, 2019; Sunday, December 22, 2019; and Monday, December 23, 2019.  These suppers will be held in the Thornhill Education Center from 5:00 p.m. to 7:30 p.m.  These dinners take place in Joy Morton’s historic Thornhill mansion.  After enjoying a dinner buffet, families head over to the Founder’s Room to visit Santa Claus in front of the fireplace, and then can walk the Illumination: Tree Lights at The Morton Arboretum path


$95Adults (21+)$90 for Adult Members
$80Young Adults (13-20)$75 for Young Adult Members
$65Children (3-12)$60 for Child Members
FreeChildren Under ThreeFree

Click here to purchase tickets online, or call (630) 725-2066 Mondays through Fridays from 10:00 a.m. to 3:00 p.m.  Alternatively, one can purchase tickets in-person on-site at the Visitor Center while The Morton Arboretum has open hours.

In 1921, when he was sixty-five year old, Joy Morton (1855-1934), began the process of converting his estate in what is now Lisle, Thornhill, into an arboretum.  Joy Morton was the founder of the Morton Salt Company and eldest son of U. S. Agriculture Secretary Julius Sterling Morton (1832-1902). Julius Sterling Morton had created the civic holiday of Arbor Day in Nebraska. 

The Morton Arboretum is north of Interstate 88 and south of Butterfield Road in DuPage County.  While the larger part of The Morton Arboretum is east of Illinois Route 53, a smaller part is west of 53.  The East Branch of the DuPage River flows across the property.  Hidden Lake Forest Preserve, which belongs to the Forest Preserve District of DuPage County, is contiguous with The Morton Arboretum.  The address is 4100 Illinois Route 53, Lisle, Illinois 60532.  The phone number is (630) 968-0074.

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