EAST PEORIA – One of the largest lighted holiday events in the Midwest returns to Central Illinois at the 32nd annual East Peoria Festival of Lights, running from Nov. 26 through Dec. 31.
Many of the festival events are named for Folepi, the festival’s toy soldier mascot and an acronym for “Festival Of Lights East Peoria Illinois.”
Folepi’s Winter Wonderland opens at 5 p.m. Thanksgiving night and will remain open through New Year’s Eve, including Christmas Eve and Christmas night. Featured are lighted parade floats and themed display areas such as the Western Town, Circus Land, Space Travel and the Prehistoric Area. Some visitors may even be lucky enough to see a marriage proposal as the festival usually hosts a few each year. Winter Wonderland hours are 5 to 9 p.m. Sunday through Thursday and 5 to 11 p.m. Friday and Saturday. Admission is $10 per vehicle and $150 for full-size charter buses. Entrance wait times Sunday through Thursday nights are usually significantly less than on Friday and Saturday night, so visitors should plan appropriately.
Those who enjoy a stroll in the brisk night air should visit Folepi’s Enchanted Forest in East Peoria’s Levee District shopping area. The lighted display lets visitors walk among sparkling trees, a giant inflatable snowman and other displays, ending at the festival’s 35-foot-tall Christmas tree. The tree is a popular backdrop for taking photos of the kids and selfies with friends. Admission is free. The forest lights will turn on for the season during an official lighting ceremony from 5:45 until 6:15 p.m. Nov. 26, with carols performed by the Caterpillar Employees Mixed Chorus.
Another lighted display, the Narrated Nativity, located at the intersection of Taylor Street and Springfield Road, has a three-dimensional appearance at night and details the “reason for the season”. Those tuning to radio station 1610 AM will hear a 2-minute narration. Admission is free. Unlike the rest of the festival displays, the Narrated Nativity is funded by private donations through the Nativity Display Association.
Other Festival of Lights Events
The lights are the star of the show, but there are many other events that comprise the Festival of Lights.
• Find Folepi - The ornament hunt will begin with the release of the first clue on Nov. 23. Clues will be posted each Wednesday on www.folepi.org and www.facebook.com/EPFestivalofLights, and in the East Peoria Times-Courier. The winner will receive a prize package worth more than $1,000 and the hunt is open to everyone.
• FOLEPI River Trail Classic and Get Lit runs - The FOLEPI River Trail Classic competitive run and non-competitive walk is Nov. 26 on the River Trail of Illinois. The run starts at 9 a.m., preceded by the walk at 8:30 a.m. The family friendly Get Lit fun run occurs at 11:50 p.m. New Year’s Eve in Folepi’s Winter Wonderland. Entry forms are available on www.folepi.org.
• Christmas Splendor Exterior Decorating Contest – Sponsored by the East Peoria Beautification Commission, this contest is an official Festival of Lights event. East Peoria residents, neighborhoods, schools, churches and businesses are challenged to deck the halls, porch, roof and windows. Entry deadline is 5 p.m. Dec. 2 and an entry form and details are available at www.folepi.org.
• Postage Cancellation Stamp – Decorate your mail with the special Festival of Lights postage cancellation stamp, commissioned by the East Peoria Chamber of Commerce. This cancellation stamp is available one day only, from 9 a.m. until noon Dec. 3 at the East Peoria Post Office, and features the words “East Peoria Festival of Lights Station”.
• Theatrical productions - Included among festival events are several theatrical productions. Eastlight Theatre’s Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat will be presented for its 26th year. The musical is set for 7:30 p.m. Dec. 2, 3, 7, 8, 9 and 10 and at 2 p.m. Dec. 4 and 11 and is performed at the Bryon Moore Auditorium at East Peoria Community High School. The Festival of Lights Cruises on the Spirit of Peoria paddle-wheeler features the show A Prairie Christmas. In addition, Central Illinois Ballet will present The Nutcracker at the Illinois Central College Performing Arts Center at 7 p.m. Dec. 2, and 2 p.m. and 7 p.m. Dec. 3.
• Folepi’s Gifts Galore Shop and Stroll – Set in East Peoria’s Historic Four Corners District and adjacent areas, this event runs from 1 until 4 p.m. Dec. 3 and features shopping in locally owned stores, carols by the East Peoria Community High School Chorale, visits with Santa, and free balloon art by The Unique Twist. Many of the participating businesses will offer door prize drawings and holiday refreshments. Those spending $25 or more at the participating businesses will receive a coupon to enter the Folepi’s Winter Wonderland drive-through display for free.
• Historic Holiday Traditions - The 136-year-old Doering Homeplace provides a unique look back in time during the Historic Holiday Traditions open houses from 1 until 3 p.m. and 4 until 6 p.m. Dec. 4, sponsored by the East Peoria Historical Society. The evening open house will be conducted by candlelight. Holiday decorations will include 1800s-style handmade ornaments.
For more information about the Festival of Lights, visit www.folepi.org, www.facebook.com/EPFestivalofLights, www.epcc.org or call toll-free 1-855-833-5327.