Discover an enchanting world of over a million lights, live Nativity scenes, and unique holiday experiences.
We’re Bruce and Karen Carlson. We recently moved to the Metro East area of Illinois. It’s a whole new world out there. Our goal with this website is to share our exploration of the Metro East area. As we find businesses and services we use in our daily lives, we’ll share how these businesses and services have helped make our lives better and easier to live.
We’re calling our move to the Metro East area retirement, but we’re not quite sure what that means. By sharing our story with you, we hope you too will gain a better sense of what the Metro East area has to offer and how their businesses and services can improve your lives and build a better community.
Way of Lights
As far as I can remember, going out and looking at Christmas light displays has been something we have looked forward to. There were always our favorite locations to go visit and there were news locations we would find and add those to our list. Distance wasn’t a big concern.
Now we are in southern Illinois, more specifically in the Metro East part of Illinois, and one of our tasks is to find the Christmas light display here. With the coming of fall, we started to hear comments about the Christmas lights at The Shrine of Our Lady of the Snows in Belleville.
We have driven by the Shrine many times since moving here, mostly on our way back to Chicago. A couple of weekends ago, after the fish fry at St. Joseph’s, we drove out to the Shrine to see the lights. So here are our comments and pictures. But first, a little history of the Shrine and lights display.
The Way of Lights started a little over 50 years ago. Initially, a few strings of lights were hung. Interestingly, the idea of the lights was to keep the maintenance busy during the winter months. Of course, any good idea grows and in the following years, the displays just keep growing. Now the displays are well over one million lights.
Over one million lights
The Way of Lights at the Shrine of Our Lady of the Snows offers more than just a picturesque drive-through experience. This enchanting event includes a live Nativity with animals and offers delightful rides on camels, donkeys, and ponies. The Gateway Lego Users Group enhances the magic with captivating Lego displays, featuring a notable life-size Lego Nativity.
Local choirs and musicians add to the festive ambiance with performances in the decorated lobby. Families can enjoy a home-style meal with a unique German flavor at the on-site restaurant, and children have the opportunity to engage in complimentary craft activities.
While some attractions may require a small fee, the experience remains largely accessible and affordable for groups. For a modest donation, families can take home a plush camel souvenir from Build-A-Bear Workshop.
This cherished tradition, fostered by the Missionary Oblates of Mary Immaculate, extends beyond a seasonal attraction; it’s a deeply rooted family tradition, offering a space for spiritual reflection and community gathering.
The shrine, set on 200 acres, provides year-round Catholic programs and devotional areas. The maintenance and preparation of the light displays are a continuous effort, with volunteers and professionals ensuring every light shines brightly.
More than a festive gathering
Rev. David Uribe, the shrine director, emphasizes the mission of the Way of Lights. It’s more than a festive gathering; it’s a portrayal of the story of Jesus Christ’s birth, a narrative that has shaped the course of human history.
He finds joy in hearing stories from visitors who have cherished memories of the shrine from their childhood or who now return with their own families. Uribe shares anecdotes of visitors’ generosity, from spare change to unexpected treasures like earrings accidentally donated.
For Uribe, the hard work and dedication involved in organizing the event are rewarded by these personal stories and the continuation of a tradition that unites families in the spirit of the season. The event’s success over the years is a testament to its impact, as noted by Koopmann, the former head groundskeeper, who still visits annually, marveling at the event’s enduring appeal.
The Way of Lights stands as a beacon of hope and celebration, a testament to the shrine’s commitment to being a source of light and joy for generations of families.
As Karen and I drove through the display, it was amazing to see all the displays of lights. The story of Jesus’ birth is very familiar, but seeing it in the displays was a unique way to see it. As we drove through the display we saw lights everywhere. It seemed that if the lights weren’t part of a display, they were on every tree and brush.
It was a drizzly night as we entered. I felt sorry for the many volunteers who had to stand out in the rain. We drove in a steadily moving line of cars, but not so fast that you could have time to see all of the light displays.
The only place it slowed down was at the end when people were stopping to give a free-will offering. We didn’t stop at the visitor’s center. It was getting close to the closing time of the displays. All in all, it was a good time and we took lots of pictures.
We hope you are enjoying these articles and are willing to continue to follow along as we share our adventures of learning about life in southern Illinois, This is an exciting area and we are so happy to be part of this area. Our lives are being fulfilled by the people we are meeting. Bruce & Karen.