A New Christmas Tradition. The Way of Lights.
The holidays are a time for tradition. Decorating a Christmas tree, holiday shopping, our favorite movies…these traditions bring us together. They remind us of years past and make us hopeful for Christmases to come...They are a part of our shared cultural experience and have a tremendous value. However, in the midst of all that, there is something to be said for seeking out new experiences! After all, some of our best traditions are born out of an unexpected experience!
So, this year my husband and I decided to check out the National Shrine of Our Lady of the Snows’ Way of Lights. Running from 5pm -9pm nightly- November 16 – December 31, the Way of Lights is located in Belleville, Illinois (only 2 hours from Harpole’s Heartland Lodge!). The shrine itself covers over 200 acres and is one of the largest outdoor shrines in America. Each year it attracts over one million visitors and helps countless individuals through its various ministries.
So, what can you expect from the Way of Lights? Why make it part of your Christmas traditions? Simply put, it is breathtaking. The Way of Lights is a mile and a half drive through the shrine’s grounds, which are covered in over a million Christmas lights. Every tree on the property is either draped or wrapped in lights, and along the drive you see electro-art displays that correspond with the nativity. It is truly mesmerizing to see the nativity story told through such unconventional means. Upon your entrance to the Way of Lights, you’ll pass through a beautiful arch constructed out of white lights. As you move through the grounds, you’ll see giant lighted angels, the wise men, the city of Bethlehem and much more. Along the way, you can stop off at the petting zoo, laser light show, Christmas wreath display, or the Lego display. You can also stop for kettle corn or a meal at the Way of Lights Buffet.
Christmas is always especially magical when observed through the eyes of a child. I was careful to note the way in which the children in attendance were captivated by this unique telling of the nativity. Their eyes twinkled under the thousands of lights. Their fingers pointed in excitement at the real camels featured in the petting zoo. They smiled with the delight of seeing something entirely different and magical…
As you approach the end of the Way of Lights, you’ll come upon the Lourdes Grotto and the nativity. With a beautiful angel above the manger, the scene is both peaceful and startlingly beautiful. At this point, several families parked their cars in nearby spaces to get out and take in the scene. If you chose to do so, you will not be disappointed.
The holidays often get a bad reputation for being expensive. And while it’s true, we do tend to overspend around the holiday season. However, some of the memories that make the deepest impressions are those that didn’t cost a cent. The Way of Lights is free (the petting zoo costs $5). At the conclusion of the drive, those who would like to make a donation are welcome to do so; however there is no pressure to do so.
Honestly, the only thing that could have made our trip to the Way of Lights any more fantastic would have been settling in by the fire later that evening at Harpole’s Heartland Lodge. This holiday, consider making a new memory with your family by enjoying a home cooked meal at the lodge, making a day trip to Belleville to experience the wonder of the Way of Lights, and then returning to spend some quality time making memories at the lodge.