Festival of Lights celebrates 30 years

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For the past 30 years, the city of Spanish Fork has held its annual Festival of Lights, which is a month-long event showcasing Holiday lights for residents and non-residents to experience. Recently, city officials sat down and reminisced about the years holding the festival, how it began, and the many things they’ve improved upon over the years. 

City Manager Dave Oyler said he remembered when the idea of the festival was first discussed.

“The staff and some of the city council attended a parks and recreation conference in St. George in the early nineties, and at that conference there was a display about outdoor Christmas lighting,” Oyler said. “As we were looking at the concept, we said, ‘Hey, this is a great way to use Canyon Park! We’ve got all of that open space, and we’ve got some roads built in there already for the parking lot. it should be a fun activity!’ 

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“Mayor Huff wanted to make sure it’s family friendly, and we wanted to make sure that the price was right so that people could afford to come, and that when they get there, that it’s really neat and fun for the kids. And through the years, that’s really what has evolved into.”

Parks and recreation assistant director Karen Bradford reminisced about the different lights they had in the beginning that they still use today. 

“I remember we had a Frosty the Snowman that waved and it was just this one motion, and the swans kind of moved on the lake, but there wasn’t a lot of movement,” she said. “As the events team got involved, then we started having a lot more structures that did things in motion. One of the first things we bought was the candy cane factory. Right when we started, we had a poinsettia arch that was over the entrance and that thing is old and it’s been welded and put together and it’s not a very easy thing to get up, but we don’t want to let go of it because it was the original arch that hung above the entrance.

…”But in the beginning, the people that were taking the money for the Festival of Lights entry stood by a burn barrel; they didn’t have a shelter,” she continued. “They just stood out there.

Special events director Steve Money also talked about the early days and how much time it took to set up and take down, and how cold it was.

“You know, it was several months of set up and tear down, plus the display of that for a month that, you know, that canyon wind up there gets pretty cold,” he said. … “We were dressed up in coveralls and everything and carried that equipment out by ourselves. You know, we were just out there on a little wagon, and a little dugout … You try to keep your fives, tens and twenties all together (when giving out change), but when you get cold, your hands don’t work quite as good, that’s for dang sure. … So me and Doug, we went to Tuff Shed over there and bought a shed and fixed it up and Doug cut a window in it. And that ticket booth was one of the best things that the Festival of Light did for the workers for sure.”

City officials said that in order to make the Festival of Lights worth visiting year after year, it was important to add new and exciting attractions each year. Even so, there are still many older ones that remain favorites.

“Maybe after year 15 or 20, you start wondering whether people would not come back just because they’ve seen it once, Oyler said. “Karen and Elaine and the others that helped change the design every year. … So by having new things every year, it kept the people’s interest in returning to see what was added that year.”

Oyler said that his favorite feature was the “big tree that had thousands of pink lights in it,” as well as the swans and serpents on the lake. Bradford also had a list of favorites. 

“I love the castle, and a few years before I retired, we added a carriage so that you had the princess throwing her hankie down to the prince,” Bradford said. “But now we have the carriage to be able to take her to the ball. Oh, and I love the Nativity, too. It’s always been one of my favorites.”

Money was quick to bring up that it hasn’t just been the additions in the light design that has improved the overall look of the festival, but that technology has come a very long way.

“We would have to replace a lot of light bulbs every year, and when it came to LED, oh gee, it just it just changed everything!” Money said. “The LED are so much brighter and clearer. … LED changed the whole thing and it changed our workload. … Plus the power that it saved. We could put more fixtures in certain areas because we had more power. LED was truly, truly a blessing, and I think it really brightened up and changed that whole atmosphere up there for sure.”

This year, the parade route has changed slightly due to a recent reconfiguration of the Powerhouse Road intersection. Event goers will now access Powerhouse Road from River Bottoms Road, rather than US-6.

Even with that slight change, the parade has its same dates and hours which is Thanksgiving to New Year’s Day from 6 p.m. to 10 p.m. Admission is  $10 per single-family vehicle,

$25 per commercial van or vehicle towing a trailer and $50 per bus, with tickets available at the booth upon arrival. 

“Festival of Lights brings families together,” Oyler said. “It’s just a fun activity in the park that is well worth the wait to be able to go in and enjoy it with your family.”

*The transcription of the interview was used by permission from Spanish Fork City.

Arianne Brown
Arianne Brown
Arianne Brown is a mom of nine who writes columns for many local and national publications. She currently resides in Payson, and enjoys looking for good happenings in her area and sharing them for others to read about. For more of her stories, search "A Mother's Write" on Facebook.
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