Into the Lights

A green smiling dragon in Santa cap wags his pointy tail. A red and yellow sailboat rocks back and forth. A jet skier jumps blue ocean waves. Two bears in hats and scarves throw a snowball back and forth. A festive glittering train hauls oversized candy canes and gifts with bows. A tireless Victorian paperboy throws his newspaper over and over. A brontosaurus chomps foliage near a red-eyed T-Rex. A white deer leaps yards into the air.

These are some of the denizens of this year’s Fantasy of Lights—a mile-long route through Morris Cove’s Lighthouse Point Park featuring 57 sparkling light displays, many of them sponsored by local organizations. The spectacle runs every year throughout the holiday season; this year it operates through January 6th, 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, plus a little extra if you want some 3D glasses). Proceeds go to the event’s organizer Easter Seals Goodwill Industries, a group dedicated to enhancing opportunities for people with disabilities in the greater New Haven area.

sponsored by

Bentara Restaurant - Authentic Malaysian Food - 76 Orange St, New Haven

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 this month—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. 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 seasonal classical music and promos.

Then it’s time for some good old holiday wonder. This year, organizers are celebrating the event’s 20th anniversary and, while there have certainly been changes along the way—many displays now feature eco-friendly LED bulbs and brighter colors than they did just a few years ago—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).

sponsored by

The Community Foundation for Greater New Haven

The displays are big—the tallest goes all the way to the top of the park’s namesake lighthouse, at 75 feet—and many of them move. Displays paying homage to the season offer up plenty of Santas and elves, while others do a good job representing their sponsors. The New Haven Register sponsors the aforementioned Victorian paper boy; United Illuminating Company sponsors an Energy Star logo; a branch of the Teamsters, Local Union No. 443, sponsors a Santa waving from the cab of a freight truck.

There’s a lot to see. But don’t feel rushed. As opposed to crowded highways or mall parking lots this time of year, dawdling is just fine at the Fantasy of Lights. Most cars creep through the route at a snail’s pace, many stopping here and there to snap 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 emanating from over 100,000 light bulbs.

This year’s Fantasy of Lights started on November 21, meaning plenty of people have already made their way from the starry blue vortex at the start to the toy soldier with his drum at the end. And if you aren’t among them? That’s okay. You have until January 6th before the park goes dark.

Fantasy of Lights
Lighthouse Point Park, New Haven (map)
Sun-Thurs 5-9pm, Fri-Sat 5-10pm through Jan 6…

Written by Cara McDonough. Photographed by Dan Mims. The original version of this updated story was published on December 21, 2012.

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Cara McDonough has been a journalist for over ten years. She writes regularly about family, parenting, religion and other issues for The Huffington Post and chronicles daily life on her personal blog. She lives in New Haven with her husband, two children and two dogs.

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