A Tradition That Brightens Aurora’s December

The Aurora Festival of Lights is back, with more than 200 displays of holiday lights. See what’s in store for this year’s event, one of the region’s largest outdoor displays.


Santa’s toy factory, Old Man Winter and colorful holiday trees are just some of the more than 200 displays featured at the annual Aurora Festival of Lights, one of the largest outdoor holiday light displays in northern Illinois. New this year is a singing reindeer quartet display that visitors can listen to on their car radios.

The Festival of Lights is a must-see holiday event that includes displays of elves and reindeer, holiday trains and gigantic snowflakes set along a mile-long stretch of Phillips Park, 615 S. Smith Blvd., in Aurora. The city is aptly nicknamed the “City of Lights,” after it was one of the first in the country to use an all-electric street lighting system in 1881. Festival of Lights displays are both static and animated, and are illuminated by thousands of LED lights. Volunteers rearrange displays and add new ones each year to keep the event fresh.

This year’s festival runs from Nov. 27 through Dec. 27 and is open daily, Sunday to Thursday from 5 to 9 p.m., and Friday and Saturday to 10 p.m.

The festival was started in 2007 by new members of the Aurora Rotary Club in partnership with the City of Aurora.

“We noticed that folks got involved, but after 12 to 18 months, they didn’t feel engaged and eventually disappeared,” says Larry Byers, public relations coordinator and the organization’s president at the time. “We decided to create a fundraising event that would get people more involved. We talked about doing poinsettia sales, a car wash or a light festival. Much to my surprise, they chose the light festival, which is not a simple event to plan.”

Byers and other volunteers met with Mayor Tom Weisner, who was quickly sold on the idea.

“The Festival of Lights has become a proud Aurora tradition, bringing countless smiles to thousands of visitors, and it continues to make Phillips Park a regional attraction for people of all ages,” he says. “The City is a proud partner with the Rotary Club and the dozens of sponsors that make the festival possible, particularly given the fact that the event raises money for local nonprofit organizations.”

Although there is no cost to drive through the display, a goodwill offering is encouraged. In the past eight years, the Festival of Lights has contributed proceeds to more than 45 organizations, including those that serve the homeless, youth, seniors, domestic shelters, and the physically and developmentally challenged.

Five years ago, the Aurora Rotary Club teamed up with the nearby Sheridan Correctional Center, where inmates built 200 snowflake and Christmas tree displays solely for the Festival of Lights. “They did a fantastic job,” says Byers. “It shows the community that we can all work together, regardless of our socio-economic conditions. It brings something fun for all to see and enjoy.”

The 2014 festival set an attendance record when nearly 27,000 cars passed through the four-week event, including 1,640 vehicles on one night alone. One man proposed to his girlfriend in front of approximately 50 family and friends on Dec. 27.

The festival is the culmination of months of hard work by the Rotarians and other community volunteers. The work begins in July, when crews remove hundreds of lights that are stored in three semitrailers. “We test every string of lights, replace the broken ones and pack them back in the trailers,” Byers says. The lights are then installed the week before Thanksgiving.

“The best part about this event is seeing all the people chip in to help,” Byers says. “It’s a lot of work, but it’s also a lot of fun.”

Holiday Tree Lightings & Displays

Holiday Homecoming (St. Charles)
Nov. 27-28. Fri. 5 p.m. Lights come on at First Street Plaza. Sat. all day. Family activities downtown include a movie at Arcada Theatre, horse-drawn sleigh rides and the Holiday Electric Parade at 5:30 p.m. Downtown St. Charles. Info: (630) 443-3967, downtownstcharles.org.

Dickens of a Christmas Celebration (Wheaton)
Nov. 27, 6 p.m. Ring in the holiday with this time-honored tradition, including the tree lighting ceremony, lighted holiday parade, carriage rides, visits with Santa and more. Front Street, downtown Wheaton. Info: (630) 682-0633, downtownwheaton.com.

Festival of Lights Holiday Parade (Crystal Lake)
Nov. 27, 7 p.m. Decorated floats, marchers, music and Santa’s arrival. More than 50 parade entries in this lighted nighttime parade. Five categories of awards, trophies distributed to winning businesses, organizations and individuals. Downtown Crystal Lake. Info: (815) 479-0835, downtowncl.org.

Lighting of the Square (Woodstock)
Nov. 27, 7 p.m. Tree lighting, late-night shopping and dining, and a visit from Santa. Caroling before and after. Woodstock Square. Info: (815) 338-4300, woodstock-il.org.

North School Park Light Display (Arlington Heights)
Starts Nov. 27. A highly detailed light display centered around an evergreen tree on the park’s fountain. Downtown Arlington Heights. Info: (847) 577-3000, ahpd.org.

Christmas Parade (Woodstock)
Nov. 29, 2 p.m. The parade around the Square officially heralds Santa’s arrival. Woodstock Square. Info: (815) 338-4300, woodstock-il.org.

Celebration of Lights (Batavia)
Nov. 29, 5:30 p.m. Hayrides, hot food and drinks, community sing-along, photos with Santa, story hour and ceremonial tree lighting. Batavia Riverwalk and Peg Bond Pavilion, 151 N. Island Ave., Batavia. Info: (630) 879-5235, bataviaparks.org.

Walk With Santa (Sycamore)
Dec. 4, 6 p.m. Parade with Santa, Mrs. Claus and elves through downtown Sycamore to the courthouse lawn, where Santa will light the holiday tree and listen to children’s wish lists. Begins at State Street Theater, Downtown Sycamore. Info: discoversycamore.com.

Christmas Walk & House Tour (Geneva)
Dec. 4-5, Fri. 11 a.m.-8 p.m., Sat. to 5 p.m. Welcome the Christmas holiday with arrival of Santa Lucia and tree lighting ceremony. Self-guided tours of five distinctive homes decorated for the holidays. Geneva Chamber of Commerce, 8 S. Third St., Geneva, (630) 232-6060, genevachamber.com.

Santa’s Arrival & Tree Lighting (Barrington)
Dec. 5, 10 a.m.-6:30 p.m. Take photos with Santa and Mrs. Claus, meet giant gingerbread people, ride carriages and trolleys, watch village tree lighting. Events at Foundry Shopping Center, Ice House Mall, Shops on Lageschulte and Village Center. Info: (847) 304-3400, enjoybarrington.com.

Window Wonderland (Elgin)
Dec. 5, noon-5 p.m. Peek inside the festively decorated windows of downtown businesses, see Santa, skate on the outdoor rink. Tree lighting at 5 p.m. Downtown Elgin. Info: (847) 4880-1456, downtownelgin.com.

Night of the Luminaria (Galena)

Dec. 12, 6-10 p.m. The streets, steps and sidewalks of Galena will be lined with nearly 5,000 candlelit luminaria. Various streets, downtown Galena. Info: (877) 464-2536, galena.org.

Holiday House Decorating Tour (Schaumburg)
Dec. 14-15, 6-8:30 p.m. Tour the entries for the Holiday House Decorating Contest and vote for your favorite. Various locations in Schaumburg. Info: (847) 985-2115, parkfun.com.