A beloved local outdoor Christmas lights festival is preparing to showcase its approximately 1,000 festive light displays in Nose Creek Regional Park from Dec. 1 to 31.
Michelle Pirzek, coordinator of the Airdrie Festival of Lights, said the volunteer-based walk-through light experience began in 1996 and is entering its 26th year of holiday-themed family fun.
“We’re really proud of the fact that we haven’t changed our mandate or vision in 26 years,” she said. “Our mandate has always been to be as budget-friendly as possible, but for us, it’s also important that families be able to connect with each other.
“We understand how difficult these last two years have been on families – our goal is to make this affordable and family friendly.”
The festival, which runs every night through December from 6 to 9 p.m., is free to attend and includes fire pits to warm up beside, $2 hot beverages to sip, and $2 train rides for the younger attendees.
According to Pirzek, volunteers begin setting up $1 million worth of light displays in the middle of November, alongside an event tent, a Christmas store, and a train station. Altogether, Pirzek said 1,500 hours of volunteer time is contributed in preparation for the event.
She added with public health restrictions eased relative to last year, she suspects it will be “extremely busy” all month long.
“On an average night, we need 15 to 20 volunteers,” she said. “This year, with COVID-19, and still managing the protocols that go with it, we’re looking at [needing] almost 30 volunteers a night – so over 900 shifts [to fill].”
Last year, the festival operated a lights-only format with no additional activities for visitors in order to comply with government protocols. Pirzek said in a normal year, the park sees an average of 70,000 visitors – even with the modifications, they witnessed around 50,000 people attend in 2020.
She added this year, with fewer restrictions, all venues and activities will be running, with social distancing protocols in place.
Due to the anticipated high number of attendees, Pirzek said she hopes guests will choose to mask-up even while outside to stem the spread of COVID-19.
The event tent will be implementing the Restriction Exemption Program (REP), which will require proof of vaccination to enter. Masking will also be required inside the tent.
“It’s not a decision we took lightly, it’s not a decision we wanted to have to make as a board,” Pirzek said. “At the end of the day, in order to run as effectively and efficiently as possible, we need to follow our provincial guidelines – we’re hoping guests can understand.”
Those interested in volunteering at the Airdrie Festival of Lights are encouraged to visit airdrielights.com for more information.
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