Belleville’s much-awaited Festival of Lights launches Friday evening and is anticipated to brighten and delight people across the region with the magic and joy of the Christmas season.
The launch event will run Friday, Nov. 17, between 5 and 9 p.m. at Jane Forrester Park (located at 30 South John St.) and will include a number of activities and entertainment for kids and the kids-at-heart. A special appearance from the big man in red himself, Santa Claus, and his delightful wife, Mrs. Claus, are also scheduled to attend. Live music by Shirley Diane will greet and gather attendees for the event, while food vendors will keep bellies warm and full.
A notable highlight for this year’s celebration will be Belleville’s first drone light show. This awe-inspiring display is scheduled to begin at 7 p.m., illuminating the night sky with holiday-themed spectacles, before the event’s grand finale – the lighting of the Festival of Lights displays, slated for 7:30 p.m.
During Tuesday’s regular City of Belleville council meeting, Ward 1 Councillor Garnet Thompson invited all members of council, and the community, to attend the Festival of Lights launch on Friday to take in the activities and enchanting displays.
“We have lots of entertainment booked. For the first time in Belleville, we will have a drone display,” Thompson said to council. “Last year, [there was] the fireworks so we [decided] to try something different. There will also be live photo ops provided by our donors.”
Thompson will share a few words of Christmas cheer during the event. City of Belleville Mayor Neil Ellis will attend the event until 6 p.m., when he is scheduled to attend another event by the Salvation Army. Santa and Mrs. Claus will be mingling and jingling until the event ends, allowing ample time for attendees to meet the big guy and soak in the festivities.
“It’s a big event. The nice part about it is that all the displays down there are strictly bought with donated money. All the displays are sponsored by donors. And every year we get $40,000 to $70,000 in donations,” Thompson said.
A few new lighting displays will join the Festival of Lights this year, including a towering gingerbread man, charming penguins, and an interactive snowman – creating even more opportunities for unique picturesque photos. Adding to the event’s unique photo opportunities will be the addition of live alpacas, Ward 1 Councillor Barbara Enright-Miller stated on Tuesday.
“Our poor reindeer took sick. We don’t know if they have whooping cough or what. But in their place we will have some alpacas for the children to enjoy, who will have their reindeer antlers on,” Coun. Enright-Miller said. “It’s been a lot of fun getting the event to this point.”
The history of the Festival of Lights dates back to 1958, stemming from a tragic accident on Christmas Eve. Originally, the Festival of Lights was developed by Don and Rita Foster, as a tribute to their son, Billy. They focused the energy of their grief into building a joyous experience for the community in remembrance of their son, which also served as a way to keep his light shining bright each year. The event not only sparks joy and wonder, but also serves as a testament to the region’s generosity and sense of community and unity in remembrance of Billy, and his friend Sonny, whose lives were both cut short that tragic Christmas Eve night.
For those unable to attend the launch night, the Festival of Lights will continue to shine at Jane Forrester Park until January 7, 2024. Santa and Mrs. Claus will make special appearances every Friday night from December 1 to 22. Ward 2 Councillor Paul Carr encouraged others with plans Friday evening to double back to the park and take in the lights and Christmas spirit over the next several weeks.
“I will be at the hockey game Friday night, but the great part about this display is that it’s there for the Christmas season,” said Carr. “I will certainly be down there to visit at some point.”
This year, all happenings for the kick off celebrations will take place at Jane Forrester Park.
“I encourage people to come down early. … It’s a great tradition for kids,” Thompson said.
“Staff has also provided us with an area at the front, near the stage, for people [with] disabilities,” Coun. Enright-Miller said. “They’ll have a spot where they can stand, or sit, with ease and not have to fight through the crowd, so thank you staff for doing that.”
To accommodate the expected crowds, traffic closures have been planned to ensure a safe and enjoyable experience for all attendees. Council carried the following motion: That Harbourview Drive be closed between Church Street and Pinnacle Street, and that Pinnacle Street be closed between Front Street and Harbourview Drive, between the hours of 5 and 9 p.m., on November 17.
For more details, visit the City of Belleville’s Festival of Lights webpage.