The Airdrie Festival of Lights is weeks away from kicking off its milestone 25th season.
Every evening from Dec. 1 to 31, the annual displays of Christmas lights will brighten the night sky at Nose Creek Regional Park from 6 to 9 p.m. Michelle Pirzek, the event’s co-ordinator, said this year’s theme is “25 glowing years of family tradition.”
“The year itself has been challenging, obviously, with COVID-19 and trying to navigate if we were going to be able to run...and what it would look like for our guests,” she said. “I’m thrilled to say we have full support from Alberta Health Services. We developed an entire COVID-19 response plan in how we’ll run our operations this year.”
Started in 1996, the Festival of Lights is one of Airdrie’s most popular annual traditions. According to Pirzek, approximately 68,000 people attended the festival in 2019. The event attracts not only locals but visitors from across the region.
Pirzek said it’s hard to predict what impact the pandemic will have on the festival's attendance this year.
“I don’t want to put anything out in the universe but I think our numbers will be higher this year, simply because people are a little bit desperate for that affordable, family-friendly experience,” she said. “[Some might] stay home for extra safety precautions with their families. We’re hoping for the best and we’re thrilled with each and any individual who does join us, and respect that it’s their decision to make.”
In addition to visits from Santa and his reindeer and the usual miniature train rides, a festival highlight this year will be ice-carving demonstrations by members of the Alberta Ice and Snow Sculptors Guild. According to Pirzek, the demonstrations will be held Dec. 5 and 6.
While social distancing measures and other health-related protocols will be in effect, Pirzek said the Festival of Lights should appear “pretty normal."
“We’ve had Plexiglas installed on our trains, and we’ll be limiting it to one family per car,” she said. “In all our lineups – train, concession, the Christmas store and event tent – we’ll be encouraging two metres of physical distancing. Concession will run, and we’ll still have hot chocolate, apple cider and coffee for our guests.”
The COVID-19 pandemic has impacted the festival financially, Pirzek said. Some of the health measures have meant additional costs for the society, while local support from businesses is down compared to last year.
“Sponsorships are down, though we’re still very pleased with those who have been able to make a commitment, and we’ve made several arrangements with our long-term sponsors for the year, so we’re thrilled with that,” she said. “There are obviously still opportunities available and every discussion is worth having, at this point, with our local businesses. We encourage them to continue reaching out because we are definitely going to run and provide some great benefit to them.”
For those who do not make it out to Nose Creek Regional Park this year, Pirzek said there are other ways to enjoy the Festival of Lights. To mark the quarter-century milestone, she said the Festival of Lights is partnering with the Airdrie Chamber of Commerce and Airdrie Parade and Fireworks to organize Get Lit, an initiative to encourage Airdrie households to turn on their Christmas lights.
“For everyone who does register, we’re going to plot them onto a map that will be available on our website,” she said. “Those who are visiting us can also drive through Airdrie and see everything Airdrie has to offer.”
Everyone who participates in the parade will be entered into a draw for a prize pack, Pirzek said.
“We’re not looking for the best or the most decorated house or business in Airdrie,” she said. “Simply, let’s light up Airdrie this year and be the glowing-est city in Alberta.”
The Festival of Lights is also partnering with Nose Creek Valley Museum this year, according to Pirzek. In recognition of the festival’s 25th anniversary, the museum has put together a special exhibit on the event’s history. She added the first 250 guests to visit the museum after the exhibit opens Nov. 17 will receive a free ticket for a mini-train ride.
Though there is no mandatory cost of admission to enter the Festival of Lights, Pirzek said monetary donations are encouraged to support the festival’s general maintenance.