Glorious holiday light displays usher in the season
Long before visions of sugarplums dance in kids’ heads and it’s time to haul out the holly, thousands of strings of twinkling lights will be putting the “happy” in “Happy Holidays.”
One of our most popular winter traditions — the annual festivals of lights — will soon brighten our region, even before Comcast Light Up Night signals the “official” start of the holiday season on Nov. 22 in Downtown Pittsburgh.
Oglebay Winter Festival of Lights
Oglebay Park in nearby Wheeling, W.Va., takes the lead at 6 p.m. Nov. 7, when its Winter Festival of Lights gets underway, running through Jan. 5. In its 35th year, the festival is one of the country’s largest light shows, drawing more than a million visitors annually, featuring 300 acres of lights in a six-mile drive with 90 lighted attractions.
Lindsey McGlaughlin, marketing manager for Oglebay, says the return of 3D “Sleigh Bans,” glasses with new holographic filters including gingerbread men, candy canes, snowmen and snowflakes, are designed to enhance visitors’ experience as they view the displays.
“This holographic eyewear adds a new perspective to the show,” adds Rod Haley, Oglebay’s senior vice president. “Over the last couple years, with the conversion of the show to LED and RGB lights, we’re now enhancing the show in new ways. It’s an exciting twist.”
Also new is The Frosted Hilltop, where families can ride the Snowflake Express train inside Oglebay’s historic greenhouse, see the lights from an open-air Frosty Wagon Ride and view the Gardens of Light and Nativity Display at the Hilltop.
Guests also can experience the Garden Bistro’s new Ice Lounge with fire pits, s’mores kits and seasonal refreshments, including holiday beverages for adults, from 5- 9 p.m. Monday-Friday and noon -9 p.m. Saturday and Sunday.
The festival also includes hourly Trolley tours departing from Wilson Lodge from 5:30- 9:30 p.m. Nov. 7-Jan. 5, and tours of the Mansion and Glass Museums, for additional charges.
Details: Oglebay’s Winter Festival of Lights will be open starting at dusk each night Nov. 7-Jan. 5 for a $25 donation per vehicle, includes one 4-pack of 3D “Sleigh Bans” and coupons for park attractions. Snowflake Express and Frosty Wagon rides are available 5-9 p.m. Monday-Friday and noon-9 p.m. Saturday and Sunday. Combo passes for both attractions are $10 plus fees at Oglebay’s Welcome Center. Individual tickets also are available for purchase. 304-243-4090 or oglebay.com
Overly’s Country Christmas
Overly’s Country Christmas has been bringing the joys of the holidays to families ever since its founder, the late Harry Overly, first decorated his home in Armbrust in 1956.
Now held at Westmoreland Fairgrounds in Mt. Pleasant Township, the lights display and more is a favorite tradition for locals and for those who travel miles each year to visit it.
“We are not a drive-through display,” says Stephanie Tomasic, executive director of Overly’s Country Christmas. “We are an old-fashioned walk-around Christmas village” with shops, a model train display, a horse-drawn sleigh or wagon ride, a talking Christmas tree, bonfire singalongs and photos with Santa.
This year, even though Thanksgiving falls late in November, the lights display should still see from 45,000 to 75,000 people come through its gates during the holiday season, Tomasic says.
Overly’s is proud of its association with local students, who pitch in as volunteers and utilize their technical skills to keep the displays looking their best.
For this season, “we are bringing back our carousel, which hasn’t been in the display since 1993,” Tomasic says. The carousel was rebuilt in steel, melted and manufactured by Overly’s volunteers and a group of master craftsmen, a project that took 40 man hours to assemble. It also now features more energy-efficient LED lights.
Also new this year will be Overly’s Wings Across Westmoreland, to be unveiled on Opening Night, Nov. 22, as Overly’s joins other communities with a set of Wings, an art initiative of the Westmoreland Cultural Trust. The images in Overly’s Wings will highlight memories that keep visitors returning year after year, Tomasic says.
Details: Overly’s Country Christmas will be open Nov. 22-Dec. 30, 5:30-9 p.m. Sunday-Thursday, 5:30-10 p.m. Friday and Saturday, weather permitting. Closed Nov. 25 and 28, and Dec. 2, 9, 24 and 25. $20 per family carload, or park in fairgrounds fields and walkin for $4 each; $35 per commercial vehicles, vans, limos and recreational vehicles. 724-423-1400 or overlys.com
Shadrack’s Christmas Wonderland
Located at Big Butler Fairgrounds in Prospect, Shadrack’s Christmas Wonderland features more than two miles of displays synchronized to music available via car radio. The displays feature a North Pole theme with a “new and improved” Santa’s Village, open nightly and free with light show admission. Included is a letter writing station to Santa, Elf Training School, photos with Santa Nov. 15-Dec. 23 (packages start at $20), train ride and games, hot cocoa, snacks.
Details: Shadrack’s Christmas Wonderland is open 6-10 p.m. daily from Nov. 15-Jan. 5; admission is $30 for cars or family vans, 8 passengers or less, Fridays, Saturdays, and all days Dec. 13-29.; $25 Sundays-Thursdays; $50 for van/limo/mini-bus, $100 for tour/school bus; Big Butler Fairgrounds, Prospect. shadrackchristmas.com
Fun Fore All’s Holiday Lights Mini-Golf Festival
Holiday lights will add a festive atmosphere to Fun Fore All’s two 18-hole mini-golf courses from Nov. 15-Jan. 7 from 5 to 9 p.m. each evening during the miniature golf lights festival at the courses in Cranberry, Butler County. Holly Jolly Cave Course and A Very Merry Lighthouse Course will feature animated, themed holiday lights.
Details: During the Holiday Lights festival from 5-9 p.m. Nov. 15-Jan. 7, the cost is $10 to play one course, $15 for both courses; a portion of admission will benefit the Highmark Caring Place. The courses, located at 8 Progress Ave., Cranberry, Butler County, will be closed on Nov. 28, Dec. 24 and 25. 724-779-1800 or funforeall.com
Ligonier Valley Historical Society Festival of Lights
The Ligonier Valley Historical Society will present its 37th annual “Festival of Lights — The Art of Christmas — Trees, Wreaths and Other Treasures” from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Dec. 7-10 in the Ligonier Town Hall Community Room.
Theresa Rohall, executive director of the historical society, said “The Night before Christmas” is this year’s theme and “proceeds will benefit our ongoing education programs, archeological studies and preservation initiatives at the Compass Inn Museum.”
The historical society will hold its “Toast of the Trees” gala from 6:30 to 8:30 p.m. Dec. 6. Those attending will have the opportunity to bid on the trees and buy them before the festival opens. Guests are encouraged to vote for a favorite tree, garland or other holiday decor. Admission to the festival is $5 per person; $1 for ages 5-12 and free for ages 4 and under.
Details: Ligonier Valley Historical Society’s 37th annual “Festival of Lights — The Art of Christmas — Trees, Wreaths and Other Treasures,” 9 a.m.-5 p.m. Dec. 7-10, Ligonier Town Hall Community Room. Admission: $5; $1 for ages 5-12 and free for ages 4 and under. Call 724-238-6818 or email [email protected]
Lumaze Indoor Light Festival
A new way to experience a holiday lights festival — inside, where it’s warm — is the idea behind Lumaze Pittsburgh, a new event Nov. 23-Jan. 4 at 31st Street Studios, Pittsburgh.
“We’re completely indoors so you can delight in everything you love about the holiday season, without the worry of chilling winds or soggy mittens,” according to the Lumaze Lights website.
Participants are invited to “Stay toasty as you leisurely stroll through our light gardens and interactive features or kick back and enjoy live music while you sip and savour on a festive drink or one of our many delicious food options.”
“A Fairytale Christmas” is the theme of the festival and “princes and princesses” are called on to help Santa find his presents, along with other helpers that are favorite storybook characters, for a possible prize.
Lumaze features playgrounds and interactive features as well as illuminated sculptures and backdrops for taking family photos. Opportunities to shop for gifts, take home fresh produce and sample seasonal goodies and beverages are part of the fun.
Details: Lumaze, Nov. 23-Jan. 4, 31st Street Studios, Pittsburgh. Admission: $19.99 weekdays, $22.99 weekend and holidays; $14.99 weekdays, $16.99 weekends and holidays for seniors and ages 4-12; free for ages 3 and under; $38.99 for season pass; family rates and military discounts available; prices are approximately $2 more at the door if available. lumazelights.com
Kennywood Holiday Lights
Kennywood Park in West Mifflin will present its new 4D experience, “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer,” as part of its annual Kennywood Holiday Lights opening Nov. 23.
The 12-minute short film, which replaces “The Polar Express” in the amusement park’s 4D theater, is the classic story of young Rudolph, who is teased for his red nose and runs away from Christmastown, where he meets new friends Hermey the Elf and Yukon Cornelius and encounters the Abominable Snow Monster.
The short show, which will play continuously in the theater, is included in the admission to Holiday Lights. Other performances by local choir and dance groups will take place on the Garden Stage and a light show choreographed to favorite holiday melodies will be presented on the lagoon.
Nick Paradise, director of public relations and social media, shared some interesting facts about Kennywood’s holiday display by the numbers:
2 million: The approximate number of lights filling Kennywood in various light displays.
12 miles: The distance all the extension cords connecting and powering lights around the park, enough to connect Kennywood to Heinz Field.
291 feet long, 45 inches wide: The size of the Pittsburgh Independent Hi-Railers model train display in its new home at the Penny Arcade, roughly double the display’s size in previous years.
100 feet: The height of the Christmas tree that serves as the centerpiece of “Holiday Lights.”
250,000: The number of LED lights adorning the 100-foot tree.
50: The number of live pine trees donated by the Indiana County Tree Growers Association.
Details: Tickets for Kennywood Holiday Lights, Kennywood Park, West Mifflin, are $20.99 (plus $1 amusement tax) at the gate. Discounts, offers and Dinner with Santa tickets on selected days are available at kennywood.com.
Phipps Conservatory’s Winter Flower Show and Light Garden
A brightly lit outdoor garden will welcome visitors to “Holiday Magic! Winter Flower Show and Light Garden,” opening Nov. 29 at Phipps Conservatory and Botanical Gardens in Oakland.
Holiday trees are the centerpiece of Phipps’ winter wonderland, featuring a tree carousel, colorful poinsettia trees, a floating forest of sparkling trees reflecting on water, a frozen forest with charming topiary reindeer and other holiday surprises. Phipps’ Garden Railroad, Santa visits, live music performances, holiday hologram glasses and Holiday Huts with libations and treats will be part of the annual winter season exhibit.
Details: “Holiday Magic! Winter Flower Show and Light Garden” at Phipps Conservatory and Botanical Gardens in Oakland runs Nov. 29 – Jan. 12 from 9:30 a.m. – 11 p.m. The outdoor garden hours are 5 – 11 p.m. Phipps will close at 5 p.m. on Dec. 24 and will be closed Dec. 25. Admission is $17.95; $16.95 for seniors and students; $11.95 for ages 2-18; free for kids under 2. 412-622-6914 or phipps.conservatory.org.
Candy Williams is a Tribune-Review contributing writer.