One of our favourite festive season events on Vancouver Island is the spectacular Festival of Lights display of Christmas decorations that brightens not only the main business area, but many of the side streets of the town of Ladysmith. The cheery spectacle runs right from the end of November through the first week in January but the very best part of this annual event, now in to its twenty-sixth year, is the actual light-up night, always held on the final Thursday of November.
The light-up celebration has evolved from a small initiative on the part of local businesses to a huge affair that attracts 20,000 people, young and old, from all over Vancouver Island, the mainland and other parts of the Pacific Northwest. What began with nine strings of lights has mushroomed to a mind-boggling 200,000-plus lights that come to life simultaneously when Santa, perched atop one of the buildings on the main drag, flips the switch. It is a dazzling sight to behold as the long downhill sweep of the downtown area is transformed into a mass of colour and brilliance.
Over the years the Festival of Lights has become so much more than just a light-up celebration. In late afternoon a mobile sound stage is set up for live entertainment. There is a huge craft fair at the Aggie Hall, and a community spaghetti dinner. Many of the local merchants and restaurants stay open late – we always enjoy getting to town mid-afternoon to enjoy a wander along the streets to enjoy these extra events and marvel at the beautiful Christmas displays in the shops.
By dusk visitors and local residents are beginning to congregate and entertainment for the youngsters is in full swing, keeping them occupied until the magical moment when Santa appears and all that brilliance blazes to life. And then, one of the very best parades ever gets under way, lasting more than an hour and featuring every conceivable mode of transportation, stunning floats and all sorts of festive frippery.
You might think that would be more than enough for a town of 8,000 to organize, especially when essentially all of it is accomplished by volunteers. But Ladysmith believes in finishing things off with a bang, so to add yet another special element to the celebration there is a fireworks display that winds up the evening with yet more colour and light. It is a fitting end to a really entrancing few hours, and one of our favourite ways to segue into the festive season.
The 2013 Ladysmith Festival of Lights light up celebration is slated for Thursday, November 28 at 6:30 pm. Warm clothes and footwear are highly recommended.