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Article posted: 12/12/2012 2:49 PM

'Bright, cheerful' scene awaits at Aurora's Festival of Lights

By Marie Wilson

Drive through Phillips Park in Aurora any night until the day after Christmas and a "very bright, very cheerful" scene awaits.

The sixth annual Festival of Lights offers a milelong drive-through show featuring almost 50 holiday displays along a scenic, circular route.

Teddy bears throwing snowballs, a golfer taking a swing, Old Man Winter blowing out a frosty breath and more than 100 giant snowflakes are situated among tall but leafless trees and a hilly landscape during the show, which runs until Dec. 26.

"The show is absolutely free. It is paid for by sponsorships that help us keep the infrastructure going," said Mary Dougherty, co-chairwoman of the festival, which is run by the Rotary Club of Aurora and the city of Aurora.

Byron Saum, the festival co-chairman who coined the "very bright, very cheerful" description, said the show will shine even brighter this year than in the past because of a switch to a different kind of light bulb.

"The display has been converted from incandescent lights to LED lights and we're about 90 percent through," Saum said.

Only a few displays remain lit with incandescent bulbs, including one made specially for top sponsor Provena Mercy Medical Center. As one of the first displays visible after the entrance on Smith Boulevard, the Provena display shows reindeer on crutches limping into a hospital building under a cross, then flying away happy and injury-free after leaving the hospital.

Dougherty said the show also is bigger this year. With the help of the city, the Rotary Club bought several used light displays, repaired any damage, fitted them with LED bulbs and watched the festival grow.

Also new this year are 100 4-by-6-foot snowflakes hanging at varying heights from Phillips Park's trees.

Pam Bellm, another Festival of Lights co-chairperson, said the lights were built by members of a Lake Land Community College welding class at Sheridan Correctional Center. The college and jail partner with nonprofits to provide free labor, so the Rotary Club asked for their help with building, fabricating, painting and wiring 100 more snowflakes to be added to 25 that were part of the display last year.

The snowstorm of lights is centered in a grove of trees about halfway through the circular route, and Bellm says it might rival the tunnel of lights near the entrance as a spectator favorite.

"When you come, be sure to look up as well because they're very magical," Bellm said about the snowflakes.

Before drivers exit the festival, they will be greeted by Rotary volunteers and their friends and family members who will hand out candy canes and sometimes even dog treats, Dougherty said.

Donations will be accepted, and proceeds will benefit community projects, mainly those focused on youth such as Boy Scouts, Girl Scouts, Hesed House and scholarship programs.

The Festival of Lights is open from 5 to 9 p.m. Sunday through Thursday and 5 to 10 p.m. Friday and Saturday until Dec. 26. For details, visit aurorafestivaloflights.com.

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