A green, smiling dragon and sailboat rock back and forth through ocean waves. A festive train carries candy canes and gifts with bows. A tireless Victorian paperboy throws his newspaper over and over.
These are some of the denizens of this year’s Fantasy of Lights, which features 55 sparkling light displays sponsored by local businesses along a roughly mile-long route through New Haven’s Lighthouse Point Park. The spectacle runs every year throughout the holiday season; this year it operates through December 31st, from 5 p.m. until 9 p.m. Sundays through Thursdays and until 10 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays.
Visiting is as easy as hopping in a vehicle, driving over and paying the entry fee: $10 per car (more if you happen to be traveling in a mini-bus or full-size bus). Rest assured when handing over the money: 100 percent of the proceeds go to event organizer Easter Seals Goodwill Industries, a group dedicated to enhancing opportunities for people with disabilities in the greater New Haven area.
During a time of year often wrought with anxiety-laden episodes—from kids crying in Santa’s lap to overindulging at the 11th party you’ve attended in a month’s span—a holiday happening that allows you to remain in the comfort of your own car and requires minimal planning ahead can seem like a fantasy. But it’s not. It’s the Fantasy, where you can wear pajamas and bring your own hot chocolate along for the ride.
In the spirit of the season, rotating volunteers from different partner organizations make the event possible, helping with everything from setting up and breaking down the light displays to manning posts at the park’s entrance and exit, according to Fiona Paterson, who works in the Development Department at Easter Seals. It’s a volunteer who provides you with a program when you first arrive and tells you where to turn your radio dial; the Fantasy of Lights creates a temporary radio station each year with holiday music and promos recorded by WTNH News Channel 8, which is also one of the light display sponsors.
Then it’s time for some good old holiday wonder. This is the event’s 18th year and, while there have certainly been changes along the way—16 of this year’s displays now feature eco-friendly LED bulbs and brighter colors than ever before—the Fantasy of Lights is pretty classic. There’s nothing like a Christmas lights display to summon your inner child; seeing so many all at once is bound to have you “wow”-ing in no time (and actual children will love it even more).
The displays are big—this year’s tallest goes all the way to the top of the park’s namesake lighthouse, at 75 feet—and many of them move. Watch for two teddy bears tossing a snowball overhead when you’re on the last stretch of the ride, in a display sponsored by AlphaGraphics New Haven.
Displays paying homage to the season offer up plenty of Santas and elves, while others represent their sponsors in more or less obvious ways. From less to more, the previously mentioned Victorian paper boy is sponsored by the New Haven Register; United Illuminating Company sponsors an Energy Star logo; and the Twin Pines Diner sponsors…drumroll please…a set of eerily similar pines.
There’s a lot to see. But don’t worry about it going by too fast. As opposed to the crowded highways or mall parking lots at this time of year, dawdling is just fine at the Fantasy of Lights. Most cars creep through the route at a snail’s pace and many pull over to take pictures, or simply to prolong the fun.
Visitors will often get a parting gift as well, such as candy canes or a souvenir keychain with a company logo, depending on the organization at work that night. No matter how frigid the temperatures, the volunteers doling them out always seem to be smiling. Maybe it’s the close proximity to all those bright colors; all together, the displays feature over 100,000 light bulbs.
Other impressive numbers associated with the event: last year over 12,000 cars visited the Fantasy of Lights and the event raised over $150,000.
This year’s Fantasy of Lights started on November 16, meaning plenty of people have already made their way through, from the bright Goodwill logo—the very first display you’ll see—to the toy soldier with his drum, the very last. Until December 31st, there’s still time to see the lights.
Fantasy of Lights
Lighthouse Point Park, New Haven (map)
Sun-Thurs 5-9pm, Fri-Sat 5-10pm
Written by Cara McDonough. Images courtesy of Easter Seals Goodwill Industries.