Update: The East Peoria Festival of Lights in Illinois is the CHAMPION of the Heavyweights Division of ABC’s The Great Christmas Light Fight! Congrats!
The East Peoria Festival of Lights will be in the national spotlight this year with the festival being a 2020 contender for Season 8 of The Great Christmas Light Fight on ABC TV. The Festival of Lights, celebrating its 36th year, is in a new community displays division on the national show, competing against three other American cities for the coveted lighted trophy. The identity of those other cities will not be known until the show airs later this year, with the broadcast date to be announced.
This year’s East Peoria Festival of Lights starts with the Parade of Lights and continues with the Thanksgiving opening of the Folepi’s Winter Wonderland drive-through display. Many aspects of the festival are named for Folepi, the festival’s toy soldier mascot and an acronym for “Festival Of Lights East Peoria Illinois.”
The Parade of Lights will begin at 5:45 pm on Saturday, Nov. 21 and spectators will see approximately 30 lighted floats gliding along the parade route. Spectators can spread out and socially distance along the approximately two-mile route which starts at East Washington Street and Dolans Lane, and continues along East Washington Street, turning left at the intersection with Camp Street. It then turns right from Washington onto Taylor Street, continues along Taylor and ends at Taylor Street and Springfield Road. A map of the parade route is available at www.folepi.org. In addition, central Illinoisans can watch the parade from the comfort of home via livestream on WMBD TV-31’s website, CIProud.com, and the station’s Facebook page.
In the days following the parade, the floats will be moved to a city park which will become Folepi’s Winter Wonderland. Folepi’s Winter Wonderland drive-through display opens at 5 pm on Thanksgiving and will remain open through January 3, including all holidays. Visitors can view the lights in the comfort of their vehicles, the ultimate in social distancing. Featured are the parade floats and lighted displays grouped in themed areas such as the Western Town, Circus Land, Space Travel and the Prehistoric Area. Hours are 5 -9 pm Sundays through Thursdays and 5 – 11 pm on Fridays and Saturdays. Admission is $10 for regular vehicles (cars, trucks and vans), $30 for a small bus (party, shuttle, mini and school), and $150 for full-size charter buses.
When possible, Festival officials encourage visitors to come to the display Sunday through Thursday, as wait times those nights are significantly less than on Friday and particularly Saturday. Traffic on Friday and Saturday is much higher, so there will be a long line to get in the display on those nights. Those who can come to the display only on Friday or Saturday should keep in mind there will be a long entrance line and should make appropriate plans for waiting to enter.
Those who go to Folepi’s Winter Wonderland on Monday nights can get a sweet treat during Chick-fil-A Mondays at the Festival of Lights. Every vehicle through the drive-through display on Mondays from November 30 through December 28 will receive a free dessert at Chick-fil-A East Peoria. Two free dessert offers per vehicle will be available while supplies last. Visit folepi.org for more details.
A popular place for taking selfies or photos of the kids is Folepi’s Enchanted Forest (located at 401 W. Washington St., in East Peoria’s Levee District shopping area). Folepi’s Enchanted Forest features the festival’s 35-foot tall Christmas tree, lighted trees and displays, and the Terry the Tractor parade float. The display will open for the season during a tree-lighting event, featuring carols by the Caterpillar Employees Mixed Chorus, from 5:45 pm to 6:15 pm on Saturday, December 5.
Fondulac District Library will sponsor Holiday Story Walks in the Reading Garden at the forest’s entrance. The story walks consist of colorful printed storybook panels illuminated with spotlights and placed in the Reading Garden. The schedule includes The Polar Express on December 4 – 10, The Snow Globe Family on December 11 – 17 and The Night Before Christmas on December 18 – 27. There will be no indoor activities at the forest or Santa visits due to COVID-19 restrictions.
The Narrated Nativity, located at the intersection of Taylor Street and Springfield Road, has a three-dimensional appearance at night and details the “reason for the season”. Those tuning to radio station 1610 AM will hear a 2-minute narration. Admission is free. Unlike the rest of the festival displays, the Narrated Nativity is funded by private donations through the Nativity Display Association.
The lights are the star of the show, but there are many other events that comprise the Festival of Lights.
The ninth annual ornament hunt, Find Folepi, will begin with the release of the first clue on Wednesday, November 25. Clues will be posted each Wednesday on www.folepi.org, on Facebook at East Peoria Festival of Lights, on Instagram at folepi_ep_festival_of_lights and in the Times-News Reporter newspaper. The winner will receive a package of prizes from local businesses, and they can keep the ornament. The hunt is open to everyone.
The 30th annual FOLEPI River Trail Classic competitive run and non-competitive walk will take place on Nov. 28 on the River Trail of Illinois beginning at 8:30 am (walk) and 9 am (4-mile run) featuring a staggered start and some other changes to meet social distancing requirements. Visit www.folepi.org for registration information and other details.
Set in East Peoria’s Historic Four Corners District and adjacent areas, Folepi’s Gifts Galore Shop and Stroll runs from Noon – 3 pm on Saturday, Dec. 5 featuring locally owned store shopping and free balloon art by The Unique Twist. Many of the participating businesses will also offer door prize drawings. Spend $25 or more at the participating businesses to receive a free pass to the Folepi’s Winter Wonderland drive-through display.
The Get Lit New Year’s Eve Celebration is a great chance to see the floats and displays up close when you can run, walk or ride the lighted trolley float through Folepi’s Winter Wonderland. The 20th annual Get Lit will take place beginning at 9 pm – Midnight on New Year’s Eve and is a way for families to celebrate the new year while enjoying treats by the fire pits and other fun activities. Visit www.folepi.org for registration information and other details.
For more information about the Festival of Lights, visit www.folepi.org, East Peoria Festival of Lights on Facebook, folepi_ep_festival_of_lights on Instagram, Festival of Lights – East Peoria on Twitter, www.epcc.org or call toll-free 1-855-833-5327.