Christmas lights first started in Germany as candles attached to trees as a way to show off the beautiful ornaments. Now we use LEDs and many colors, but the purpose remains – to show off the beauty of our communities. Across our entire region, you will find dozens of community light displays. We feature 10 in this issue, but there are certainly more – so be sure to go to our website to find all the light displays.
One of the crown jewels of holiday lights in our Central Region can be seen at the Carlyle City Park in Carlyle . This free light show includes over 100,000 stands of lights throughout the park, and kicks off just after Thanksgiving. This drive-thru display also features a contest to find Piper the Penguin. If the kiddos in your vehicle can find this illuminated penguin figure, parents can submit the child’s name and location of Piper to be entered to win a prize!
Be sure to head to Foundation Park for the Fantasy of Lights in Centralia, starting after Thanksgiving and running through December. This drive-thru display is free of charge and features some great displays from a golfing Santa to Rudolph catching some rays! The 40-foot star is also a big hit, so make sure to head to Centralia before the holiday season is over.
One of the most popular and iconic displays in our region can be found at the National Shrine of Our Lady of the Snows in Belleville. The Way of Lights display opens on Friday, November 18th this year and runs through December 31st. It’s one of the longest running displays in Downstate Illinois, dating back to 1970. If you try driving down Route 15 during a weekend evening in November or December, you will see firsthand the thousands of people that come to the Shrine just for the Way of Lights!
A new holiday celebration started in Mascoutah last year known as WinterFest, and it features a beautiful display of lights at Scheve Park. Hundreds of folks enjoyed last year’s inaugural WinterFest, and the community will continue the celebration this year. Mascoutah leaders say the park will be all lit up again for folks to experience in late November.
The largest drive-thru lights show in our area is the WonderLight’s Christmas at World Wide Technology Raceway in Madison. Composed of over one million LED lights, this synchronized show has quickly become a holiday staple and family tradition for many in our region. Running from November 11th through January 1st, shows take place nightly including holidays starting at 5 p.m. to 10 p.m. Tickets are priced at $30 per car (up to 7 passengers with children under 3-years-old being free).
Over in Carmi, the Carmi Christmas Elves will host the Christmas Lights of Hope starting Thanksgiving weekend and will run each weekend through December. The Christmas Lights of Hope is free but there is a suggested donation of $5. “All proceeds go to giving back to the community through Kicks 4 Kids,” Carmi Christmas Elves President Lance Yearby says. A great light display that is put on for a great cause - that truly is what the holidays are all about!
Be sure to head to Marshall after Thanksgiving to see the Festival of Lights put on by the Marshall Christmas Committee. This drive-thru lights display is a great way to keep the kids entertained with many unique creations including Santa piloting a helicopter! The show is open nightly at the Clark County Fairgrounds.
A fan favorite is a two-for-one in Newton. The main draw is the Newton Christmas Lights In The Park at Peterson Park. Opening night is November 25th and runs through December so be sure to go to the park to see Santa driving around! Then, don’t be a Grinch and head just a few blocks west to the Old Mill Bridge and put your walking shoes on to experience this beautifully illuminated bridge! Oh, and you may want to bring your camera for a family photo-op!
Starting the week of Thanksgiving, Olney truly begins to shine as its Christmas Lights Display in the City Park turns on nightly. It has become one of the biggest light displays in southeastern Illinois, drawing folks from counties around! The display runs from 5-9 p.m. Sunday through Thursday and 5-10 p.m. Friday and Saturday. You don’t want to miss out on seeing a couple of squirrels decorating a Christmas tree at this lights show!
Last but certainly not least, Palestine’s Leaverton Park comes to life with Christmas lights at the same time as many other area displays, from Thanksgiving weekend through New Year’s Day. Be sure to attend the lighting event on November 25th as it will begin with a bang with fireworks lighting up the sky. The Leaverton Park Lights draw in visitors far and wide for the annual display and will not disappoint!
No matter where you are planning to visit, or where you may reside - our region will have you in awe with all the spectacular displays. Our communities pride themselves on spreading cheer and joy during this time of year, so mark your calendars and get out to as many as you can this winter. ‘Tis the season!
This article comes from the 2022 edition of the Holiday Tourism Times. To request your free guide to seasonal fun, visit our Tourism Times page.