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- Christmas Lights in the Midwest
- Christmas Lights in Illinois
- Christmas Lights in Indiana
- Christmas Lights in Michigan
- Christmas Lights in Minnesota
- Christmas Lights in Missouri
- Christmas Lights in Ohio
- Christmas Lights in Oklahoma
- Christmas Lights in South Dakota
- Christmas Lights in Wisconsin
- More Ways to Celebrate Christmas
Folks in the Midwest take their holiday and Christmas lights displays seriously. Many of the Midwest’s illuminations are family traditions. From Illinois to Ohio, Wisconsin to South Dakota, Michigan to Missouri, here are the best Midwest holiday and Christmas lights displays to see, with updates and COVID-19-related changes for 2020.
Christmas Lights in the Midwest
My teenagers always grumble about going to see Christmas light displays. “Why do we need to go see a bunch of lights?” they groan.
Yet, without fail, they end up enjoying themselves and the whole family ends up in a happy, holiday mood. I’m not sure exactly how the magic happens, but it’s a worthwhile and fun holiday tradition for families, teens, grandparents, and anyone else who needs a dose of holiday spirit.
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Here are some of the biggest and best Christmas lights displays in the Midwest.
Christmas Lights in Illinois
Northbrook: New for 2020, Let It Shine converts the Northbrook Court mall parking lot into a fun, drive-through musical light display. Tune your car radio to a certain station and drive along the winding path and watch the lights move to the music on towering trees, lighted tunnels and flashing candy canes. The mouths of the illuminated characters move to sing along with the mood-lifting music – everything from the “Frozen” soundtrack to old-school Christmas tunes. Limited spots are available, so advanced purchase is required. Including taxes and fees, tickets are $34.81 per car on weekdays and $45.06 per car on weekends. Fast passes are available for an additional $15. Tickets can be used for discounts at nearby restaurants and shops. A portion of the proceeds will be donated to the NorthShore University HealthSystem Kellogg Cancer Center. Runs Nov. 15-Jan. 9, but closed Christmas Day.
TravelingMom Tip: Let the kids stand up through the sunroof as you go through the lighted tunnels. It makes a cool video!
East Peoria: The East Peoria Festival of Lights is set to be even bigger this year. The town is a 2020 contender for Season 8 of The Great Christmas Light Fight on ABC. How did the town do? No one is saying ahead of the big reveal during Season 8 of the show, which will air in December 2020. The East Peoria Parade of Lights is set for November 21. The 36th annual East Peoria Festival of Lights holiday light show will be open November 26 through December 31, 2020. Admission to the Folepi Winter Wonderland drive-through festival costs $10 per vehicle.
Alton: The “grandpa gang” hangs up 4 million lights on the trees in Rock Spring Park for “Christmas Wonderland” from November 27 through December 27. Suggested donation is $7 per car. (Note: There won’t be Santa visits this year.)
Bethalto: Just nine miles east of Alton is the Bethalto Christmas Village. It’s a walk-through festival in the Arboretum. Expect to see the cottages, giving trees, wire art and lit trees throughout the half-mile path. The committee is still looking for creative ways to include the Clauses and the nativity. The event opens on Black Friday (the Friday after Thanksgiving).
Brookfield: Brookfield Zoo’s 39th annual Holiday Magic event will feature a 600-foot-long tunnel with thousands of colored lights all synchronized to music; a giant 20-foot-lit orb ideal for Instagram selfies or holiday photos; a 41-foot-tall holiday tree; larger-than-life LED animal sculptures of a bison, a bear, and a giraffe; and 660 LED-lit trees decorated with ornaments. There will also be a Game of Gnomes family-friendly scavenger hunt, seasonal treats and beverages, and a life-size cut out Santa Claus photo frame. Dress warmly; buildings will not be open. Dates are November 27-29, and December 2-6, 9-13, 16-20 and 26-31. Admission is by timed ticket and must be purchased in advance here.
Chicago: The big Magnificent Mile Lights Festival is going virtual this year. The parade will air on ABC on Nov. 21. Likewise, the Christkrindl Market will be online only. Christkindl.live will launch on November 15, and run through December 31. A booth assistant will live stream daily from 10 a.m. to 7 p.m. To experience Chicago Christmas lights in person, drive up Michigan Avenue or head to Lincoln Park for the Zoo Lights displays at Lincoln Park Zoo. Zoo Lights runs from November 21 to January 3, 2021. It costs $5. Tickets are available online and Covid-19 rules limit groups to 10. In addition, anyone visiting from states listed in the city’s Emergency Travel Order are required to quarantine for 14 days before visiting the zoo.
TravelingMom Tip: Dress warmly to visit Zoo Lights! The animal buildings will be closed and the wind whipping in from Lake Michigan can be frigid in a Chicago winter!
Gurnee: Six Flags’ Holiday in the Park celebration is canceled this year. The amusement park is closed.
Lisle: Trees are the stars of the awesome lights display at Illumination at The Morton Arboretum, in Chicago’s west suburbs. No Rudolph or Santa here, just colorful, creative, laser holiday-themed light displays. This year, it will be a 2-mile driving route rather than the 1-mile walk of previous years. Dates are November 20-January 3, 2021. Tickets must be purchased online for a timed entry. Tickets will not be sold at the door. Prices range from $29-$49 depending on the night.
Aurora: Aurora’s Festival of Lights is one of the largest drive through Christmas lights shows in Illinois. Expect to see Santa’s Toy Factory, Old Man Winter, elves and reindeer, holiday trains, gigantic snowflakes and beautiful lighted swags on the fence line surrounding the zoo, Phillips Park, 1000 Ray Moses Drive. November 27-December 27, 2020. The Rotary Club of Aurora sponsors the light show. Admission is free (even for buses!), but donations are being accepted online. The money is used to support local area organizations.
Christmas Lights in Indiana
Indianapolis: Indy has the nation’s tallest holiday light display at “Circle of Lights” in downtown Indianapolis’ Monument Circle. About 100,000 people have shown up in the past to watch the lights turn on. That will happen November 27 when the iconic Soldiers and Sailors Monument is transformed into a 242-foot tall Christmas tree. In addition, the Indianapolis Zoo’s Christmas at the Zoo is set for 5-9pm from November 21-December 30. Winterlights returns to Newfields November 21, 2020, through January 3, 2021. New this year: Huckleberry Funk’s cover of Donny Hathaway’s “This Christmas” will be added to the Landscape of Light. The “Lights at the Brickyard” celebration at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway is canceled for 2020.
Santa Claus: As you can imagine, this Christmas-themed town goes all-out for the holidays. A highlight is the 1.2-mile “Santa Claus Land of Lights,” a driving journey that tells the story of Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer through huge LED displays. Open Friday, Saturday and Sunday from Thanksgiving to December 6 and nightly from December 11-30, the cost is $15/car, but you can get a $4 off coupon at local McDonald’s restaurants.
Conner Prairie: Reynolds Farm Equipment has ended its annual Christmas lights display, but you can still get in the holiday spirit at Conner Prairie. The Reynolds family donated their light display to the Merry Prairie Holiday Festival, hosted at Conner Prairie. The festival will run from 5:30-9:30pm Friday-Sunday November 27-29, December 4-6, 11-13, 18-20, 23. Tickets for nonmembers cost $20 in advance; tickets will not be sold at the gate. Admission is free for children under 2. Masks are required.
Valparaiso: Winter Lights Drive Thru features unique displays, many custom-made by park maintenance staff. Look for farm scenes, a roller coaster and Santa taking off into the sky. Open nightly from 6-9pm November 28=December 31, 2020 at Sunset Hill Park. Admission is free, but donations are gladly accepted.
Christmas Lights in Michigan
Dearborn: Lantern-lit paths illuminate the old-fashioned Christmas performances and light displays at the charming “Holiday Nights at Greenfield Village.” Horse and carriage and Model-T car rides, ice skating, caroling and fireworks, too. We are waiting to hear about 2020 dates and prices.
Grand Rapids: The Christmas Lite Show at Fifth Third Ballpark has almost two miles (more than a million lights!) of animated displays, lighted tunnels and more. November 25-January 2, 2021, 5:30-9:30pm Sunday-Thursday, 5:30-10pm Friday and Saturday. Tickets are $25/car.
Christmas Lights in Minnesota
Duluth: The Bentleyville Tour of Lights, located along Lake Superior, is a drive-through event in the 20-acre Bayfront Festival Park. Kids 10 and under get a free knit hat. Displays feature Duluth and Christmas-themed icons illuminated by more than 5 million lights. November 21-December 27. Price is $10 at the gate. No vehicles longer than 20 feet or taller than 8 feet allowed.
Christmas Lights in Missouri
Kansas City: Country Club Plaza continues a nearly century-old tradition on November 29, when the mayor’s Christmas tree lights are turned on. Views are available from plaza hotels, such as the upscale Hotel Sorella or the family-friendly Holiday Inn. Best views are from the rooftops, or the second floor of Barnes & Noble. The displays stay up through mid-January. City Lights also includes the front façade of the 22-story Marriott Kansas City Downtown, which features a synchronized display of 30,000 bulbs.
Branson: Branson, which bills itself as “America’s Christmas Tree City,” does it up big during the holidays. There are several impressive drive-through light displays, including Let There Be Lights! at the Promised Land Zoo, Branson’s Gift of Lights and the Trail of Lights at the 160-acre Shepherd of the Hill Homestead. There is a cost for each event.
St. Louis: Garden Glow at the Missouri Botanical Garden features more than 1 million dazzling lights. The 2020 event will include fun new experiences, and traditional favorites such as s’mores, festive drinks, and fantastic family photo opportunities. Garden Glow is open every evening from November 11, 2020-January 2, 2021 except for Christmas Eve and Christmas Day. Doors open at 5 p.m. Nonmember tickets are $20 for adults; $8 for children ages 3-12. Children ages 2 and under are free. On Family Nights (November 11, 18, and 25 and December 2 and 9) children’s tickets are only $3. All tickets are dated and timed. Capacity will be limited due to COVID restrictions. Masks are required.
Also in St. Louis: Beer, of course, is served at the different Anheuser-Busch Brewery Lights display. But you can sip it under more than 1 million twinkling lights. Ice skating, a Kid Zone play area with a Bevo Express Train, live music and a Soup Bar are part of the festivities. We are waiting to hear details of the 2020 event.
Christmas Lights in Ohio
Hamilton: Pyramid Hill Sculpture Park & Museum’ Journey Borealis integrates monumental sculptures, inventive lighting displays, and a custom soundtrack from the Cincinnati Boychoir and Cincinnati Chamber Orchestra in a drive-through display. November 20, 2020-January 3, 2021. Monday-Thursday 6-9PM and Friday-Sunday 6-10PM. Tickets are $7.50 for adults and $2.50 for children Sundays through Thursdays’ $9 for adults and $3.50 for children on Fridays and Saturdays. No buses with more than 24 passengers allowed.
Middletown: Light Up Middletown is entirely designed and installed by a group of volunteers called the “Grandpa Gang.” Drive through the display to see animated lights that feature all kinds of holiday cheer from the North Pole to snowflakes to winter animals. Open 6-10pm nightly from Thanksgiving through New Year’s Eve.Admission is by cash donation.
Christmas Lights in Oklahoma
Muskogee: This small city of 40,000 does Christmas big with the annual Garden of Lights in Honor Heights Park. More than 1 million LED lights grace thousands of azalea bushes, line fountains, spiral upwards to the treetops and cascade down a hillside waterfall. The Garden of Lights is a drive-through event, but guests can park and stroll among the displays. Thanksgiving to New Year’s Day, 5:30-10pm. Cost is $5 per car and $10 for buses. Mondays are free.
Christmas Lights in South Dakota
Brooking: Garden Glow at McCrory Gardens Education & Visitor Center is a winter wonderland of holiday spirit. The newest addition is “Reindeer Meadow” and holiday tunes throughout the walk. Open 5-8 p.m., December 5-January 6, 2021, except for Christmas Eve, Christmas Day and New Year’s Day.
Rapid City: Storybook Island in Rapid City gets turned into a winter wonderland during Christmas Nights of Light. Storybook characters are all dressed up in lights for the holiday season. Dates are November 27-29, December 4-6, 11-23, and 26-31. Hours are 5:30-8:30 p.m. Admission: $3 per person.
Christmas Lights in Wisconsin
Lake Geneva: The beautiful Grand Geneva Resort & Spa hosts its Christmas in the Country celebration. More than two million lights illuminate the resort’s 1,300 acres of rolling countryside, including the family-favorite “12 days of Christmas” drive-through light show. This year, indoor displays and events are open only to resort guests.
Milwaukee: Thousands of lights create animated scenes and dancing luminaries in Pere Marquette Park for the annual Holiday Lights Festival. November 19-Jan. 1, 2021.