By Pat Garry, Contributing Writer
Maybe the most exciting part of the holiday season is driving around the neighborhoods to see all the great Christmas lights displays. Of course, all displays are not the same, and it becomes immediately obvious which houses have just thrown-up a few strings of lights haphazardly, and which have put time, effort and a lot of love into their displays. Whether viewing the light shows from the car or doing a “stroll-by” – appreciating the hard work of those who put up holiday light displays, is a fun winter tradition.
CARTER CHRISTMAS LIGHTS SHOW, Albert Lea (https://www.carterxmas.com/) Albert Lea homeowner Mike Carter and family, loves lights! Originally located in Austin, MN, the Carter house light show began in 2014, with circa 7,000 lights on display. “In 2015, we grew the light count to 14,000, and it was the first year we synchronized the lights to one song (Santa Tell Me, by Ariana Grande),” explained Carter. In subsequent years, the light-count increased and the music selections expanded, as the Carters became more proficient at light show designing and programming. In 2018, the family moved to Albert Lea, 1905 Brookside Drive, where the “Carter Christmas Light Show” now exists. Truly a family affair, the Carters involve nieces and nephews every year, in an attempt to give the “kiddos” an opportunity to help. “Elijah Bastura helped build some framing for the display, Miley Bastura recorded and helped edit the audio that plays between shows, and this year, our niece, Amaris, recorded the informational audio track as well,” Mike said. The display runs every night, Saturday, November 23 – Tuesday, December 31. The shows run every ten minutes (hours on Sunday – Thursday are 5-9 p.m.; and on Friday & Saturday, from 5-10 p.m.) For optimal viewing and traffic flow purposes, the Carters ask that all observers navigate to the display, via Bayview Drive (more information on the website). And in the spirit of the holidays, a number of the neighbors are hosting fundraisers on select nights; and they will be offering hot chocolate and other seasonal favorites.
This 38,000 LED light display includes a 16-foot drummer boy, Santa and his reindeer, literally on the house roof and the 30-foot chimney, fully decorated. In addition to the many unique DIY elements, each year, the Carters choose a select number of songs, which allows them to focus on precise synchronization. All spectators will experience a seamless mixture of the “traditional” holiday feel with a few modern show pieces. Photos are encouraged in between shows to allow for onlookers to capture memories. The fascinating display is one of the largest in southern Minnesota and is conveniently located minutes away from both Interstate 35 and Interstate 90, in Albert Lea.
“While it is not obvious to viewers, we developed 100% of the sequencing software and a majority of the show management software, from scratch. This has allowed us to customize the show in ways that are not readily available from other “out of the box” solutions. Also in the DIY spirit, we designed and assembled all of the hardware pieces (i.e. electrical outlets, computers, etc.) that physically turn the lights on/off,” informed Carter. Additional show information, past show videos and DIY resources, available at https://www.carterxmas.com/.
KIWANIS HOLIDAY LIGHTS, Mankato (http://kiwanisholidaylights.com) The Kiwanis Holiday Lights event began in 2012, at Sibley Park in Mankato. A non-profit group that focuses on giving back to the Greater Mankato area, there is a board of directors with an executive team that runs the organization. Everyone involved is a volunteer and no one is paid; for what amounts to circa hundreds of hours throughout each calendar year. Kiwanis Holiday Lights is open each year, from the Friday after Thanksgiving (this year Nov. 29), to New Year’s Eve. Sunday – Thursday, the hours are 5:00 p.m. – 9:00 p.m. and Friday/Saturday from 5:00 p.m. – 10:00 p.m. The event is FREE for all who attend (however, cash donations are accepted to benefit the 60+ non-profit partners, to grow the event for future years, and to supply non-perishable food items that go to 17 different area food shelves). The park can be both driven through, walked (about a ¼ mile loop that is paved and handicapped accessible), or both. Also, there are three different heated shelters throughout the park. Opening night features a parade with floats (decorated with thousands of lights) that enters Sibley Park and culminates with Santa – helping turn on the entire park at once, which will be more than 1.6 million lights.
Some of the unique features are live reindeer throughout the event, visits with Santa every Friday, Saturday, and Sunday until Christmas, horse-drawn wagon rides every Friday, Saturday, and Sunday (small fee), The Mary Dotson Skating rink, a synthetic skating rink that can be used in any temperature, a 5k race under the lights on December 8, and live ice sculpting on December 20 & 21. The displays include a 50-foot center tree with over 30,000 lights, over 50 characters from holiday stories, 25-plus static displays ranging from 6-20-feet high, more than 10 animated displays from 10-35-feet high, 60-plus themed pine trees, each uniquely decorated by each non-profit partner, 200-plus tree canopies decorated up to 60-feet high, and an entire side of the park with animated lights; set to programmed music that can be listened to in the park or on the car radio while driving, which includes a 100-foot driving tunnel and a 50-foot walking tunnel. One of property’s heated buildings features a concession stand that offers hot chocolate, hot apple cider, water, snacks, candy canes, popcorn, and on busier nights, nachos and fresh mini-donuts. “We embrace the fact that we are staffed by 100% volunteers. These volunteers come from businesses, non-profits, and colleges in the area. In 2018, we had over 2,500 volunteers that spent over 15,000 hours setting-up the event, over five weekends, running the park for 39 nights, and helping tear-down the displays over the course of three days. In seven years, we never have closed due to bad weather. Additionally, over that time, we have collected over 98 tons of food, donated over $367,000 back to the greater Mankato area, and welcomed more than one-million visitors to Kiwanis Holiday Lights,” explained Spokesman Kyle Mrozek.
HOLIDAY LIGHTS PARADE, Le Sueur (https://lesueurchamber.org/events/holiday) It’s the Holiday Lights Parade in Le Sueur (Friday, December 6). Come and enjoy an evening of warmth and community. It’s a great way to kick-off the Christmas holiday season. The Holiday Lights Parade begins at 6:00 p.m. on North Main Street, followed by a Christmas tree lighting at Mother Louise Park. Fireworks will begin immediately following the tree lighting at River Park. Christmas tree lighting is sponsored by Le Sueur Rotary Club. Fireworks are provided by The Bar, The Green Mill Bar and Le Sueur Knights of Columbus.
HOLIDAY LIGHTED PARADE, (Goodview) Share the Spirit of Giving…the Holiday Lighted Parade committee invites you to participate in their 18th annual parade. Once again, the focus of this parade will be to fill the Winona Food Shelf, as Merchants Bank kicks-off their 10 Days of Giving Food Drive. The parade will be held on Saturday, December 7, at 5:30 p.m., in Goodview, MN. All participants should assemble at the Goodview Pavilion, next to the Fire Station on 5th Street. There is no set fee, however, the committee will be accepting free will, and/or canned donations for parade entries. There will be food barrels at the Elks Lodge and the Merchants Bank float will be taking food donations along the parade route. Members of the Elks Lodge #327 will be serving food and refreshments, along with some fun activities at the Goodview Lodge. There will also be a bake sale to satisfy your sweet tooth. Please ask about and join us for our “Santa’s Workshop” holiday celebration. After the parade at the Elks, a reception is held where Mr. and Mrs. Claus are present; there is face painting by the Goodview Royalty; and games put on by the parade group. There is also a drawing for two bikes (one girl’s and one boy’s). The bikes are donated by the Goodview Activity Group. There is also food and of course Hot Cocoa. It is a fun family event that has a little for everyone and also promotes the community.
CHRISTMAS LUMINARIES AT SCHELL’S, (https://www.schellsbrewery.com/) New Ulm; The Schell’s Christmas Luminaries have been a part of the Christmas scene on the brewery grounds since the mid-1960s. Al Marti, who was president at the time, had seen these in Texas and brought the idea back to Schell’s, in order to illuminate the gardens for Christmas, and it has been done every year since. Each year, on Christmas Eve, family members, all descendants of August Schell, gather in the gardens to put out the luminaries. “They consist of Kraft paper bags, which are filled with about 4” of sand and then a plumber’s candle is inserted into the sand. There is usually some moisture in the sand, so when the temperature dips and the sand freezes, the candle always stays upright,” explained August Schell Brewing Company Special Projects Coordinator Jodi Marti. These luminaries are placed all along the sidewalks of the formal gardens, along the tops of the walls, around the front of the Schell mansion, the incoming roadway, and other various areas in the gardens and on the grounds. There are several open areas, where each year, the family decides what emblem to put in it; outlined with the luminary bags. On years where some of the Marti sons were deployed or unable to come home, their initials were featured. One year, all felt there needed to be more peace in the world, and a big Peace symbol or a heart was made. And of course, the August Schell A and S is a highlight too.
This process can take hours, depending on how many family members are able to help with this. On years when there were quite large snow banks on the garden walkways, mischief and merrymaking also takes place during the putting out of the bags, and numerous family members and pet dogs, had been known to take tumbles down the snowbanks (all in good fun, and just added more memories of the afternoon). Usually between 300 to 600 bags are put out. When all the bags are completed and placed to everyone’s satisfaction, the family retreats to the family “Big House” for refreshments and warm soup and snacks. During this late afternoon, stories of past descendants are repeated, and toasts are made in their honor. On Christmas Eve the luminaries are then lit by, again, whatever family members can make it. The candles will burn on Christmas Eve from around 6 p.m. until 9 p.m. Christmas night, they are again lit, and allowed to burn until they go out. The Schell’s Gardens are quite protected from the wind so, the candles burn for hours and hours, and some have been known to still be burning the next morning! All the rest of the lights are turned off around the brewery grounds, with just a big Christmas tree lit in front of the Mansion, Christmas lights around the Gift Shop and just a few other areas, so it becomes a quiet, almost magical wonderland with the illumination with all the candles. Occasionally you will see flashes as many family pictures are being taken around the grounds. You drive in, park, and walk through the gardens to enjoy the luminaries. It is really a quiet, almost serene atmosphere, with occasional “Merry Christmas” greetings being given by all the visitors. There is only one road way in and out, so traffic is slow at times, but well worth the time it takes to get onto the Schell Brewery grounds; just to experience the beautiful scene. It has become a tradition not only for all the Schell family, but it is also enjoyed by hundreds of local community families as well. “We like to say it is the Schell/Marti Family’s Christmas gift to the community. It is all really a labor of love, and something we have not missed a year of since the early 60s,” Marti commented.
NEVALA FAMILY CHRISTMAS LIGHT SHOW, (Kasson) Glen and Tammy Nevala present their Nevala Family Christmas Light Show at 405 6th Court NE, in Kasson. The show runs from 5 p.m. – 9 p.m. every night through New Year’s Eve. “We electronically control 176 channels of circa 32,000 Christmas lights. The lights are synced to 15 songs, ranging from old, traditional music like “Holly Jolly Christmas” – to recently added, Santa’s Rock & Roll Band, playing AC/DC’s “Thunder Struck”. You will see props like a mega tree, candy cane arch, elf boy & girl singing, a 25-foot giant snowman, and Santa’s Rock & Roll Band, playing with Rudy, the elf boy, on drums, the grinch on guitar, and Santa on lead guitar.
It’s like going to an old-fashioned drive-in movie! You can park in front of the display, in your warm car and tune to FM 88.1 to listen to the music play,” explained Glen Nevala. The Nevalas accept donations, 100% of which go to benefit the Kasson Fire & Rescue Team. And for the kids, there is a great “Santa’s Coloring Contest”- where two lucky winners get a brand-new bike (Mr. & Mrs. Claus show up to give away the bikes). On the weekends, Santa makes a special appearance to all the people who stop by. Candy canes and Christmas bells are handed out by the jolly, old guy himself. (like the Nevalas on Facebook)
It truly is the most wonderful time of the year!