BELLEVILLE, Ill. – This week has felt like summer, but the warm, dry weather is exactly what workers need to get a jump start on the Way of Lights at the National Shrine of Our Lady of the Snows in Belleville.
The annual Christmas light display has been going strong since 1970.
“I get that constantly. Father, we love the Way of Lights. It’s been a tradition ever since I was a child to come here and enjoy the lights. Now, I’m able to bring my children,” Shrine Director Fr. David Uribe said.
With more than one million lights, the immense display takes a lot of time to set up.
“We’ve always had to start the work the Tuesday after Labor Day in order for us to be ready before the start of the Way of Lights, which is the Friday before Thanksgiving every year,” Uribe said.
He added that people are surprised to learn that the display must be completely taken down and re-setup each year.
“Yes, we have to. We’ve got these little critters called squirrels and they love plastic. If we left them up, they would eventually get through them through the year,” Uribe said.
Drive through holiday light displays were very popular in 2020 when COVID-19 restrictions canceled many other traditions.
“We were quite surprised by the number of cars that came through. We have about 2,000 more than the previous year,” Uribe said. “And we raised more money, even with less programming. Because last year we didn’t have the visitors center open.”
The Missionary Oblates of Mary Immaculate hope to have more programming available this year and welcome everyone to visit this breathtaking display.
“We want to reiterate that Christmas story. That … Christ coming into the world and being that light of the world for all generations,” Uribe said.
The Way of Lights opens for the season on Friday, Nov. 19, and will run through New Year’s Eve. There is no admission fee. The display is funded by visitor donations.