Festival of Lights season arrives with early events

Published 12:10 am Thursday, November 8, 2018

By Jim Buice
For the Clemmons Courier

Even before the official start of the Festival of Lights at Tanglewood Park, there is an opportunity to get a sneak peek at the spectacular Christmas lights show if you’re a runner, walker or have a furry friend.

It all starts on Saturday with the Miles for Meals 5K (formerly the Souper 5K), followed by the Totally Outstanding Awesome Stroll through Tanglewood on Sunday, and then Paws in the Park on Monday and Tuesday.

Then on Friday, Nov. 16, occupants of the cars, trucks, vans and buses get to ride through the colorful displays through Jan. 1 during the Festival of Lights, which began in 1992 and now averages 250,000-plus visitors each year.

Leading off is the Miles for Meals 5K, which is a major fundraiser for Hillsdale United Methodist Church in Advance, with the new-named event running on Saturday from 4 p.m. to 7 p.m., and the race beginning at 5:30.

So why the name change?

“We have changed the name because we are hoping that as our food ministry continues to grow, we will be able to expand beyond soup,” said Nancy Coppley, director of creative connections for Hillsdale UMC.

Online registration is $30 through today (Thursday) at 10 a.m., and there are two chances to register in advance in person — Friday from noon to 2:30 p.m. at Omega Sports in Thruway Shopping Center in Winston-Salem and from 5 p.m. to 7 p.m. at Hillsdale UMC. Participants can also register at Tanglewood from 4 p.m. to 5 p.m. on Saturday, the day of the event. There also will be a one-mile fun run for free, starting at 4:30 p.m.

Coppley said that there were about 570 participants last year, and the church was hoping to have about 800 this year for the event, which provides the majority of the annual funding for the food ministry.

“We would really love to see the community participate in order to raise awareness and funds so that we can continue to feed those in need and work towards closing the gap on food insecurity in Davie and Forsyth counties,” Coppley said.

The event also will have free inflatables, hayrides, warm drinks, face painting, glow sticks and live music. Food trucks also will be available.

The scene shifts from running to strolling through the lights on Sunday (gates open at 5 p.m.) for the TOAST Walk, which is hosted by the Clemmons Rotary Club.

Tickets for the event, which are $50 per vehicle, are available online through the Rotary Club’s Facebook page or website – TOASTTanglewood.com (note there is no “www”). Advance online ticket purchase is required this year for admission to the event at specific times – 5:30 p.m., 7 p.m. and 8:30 p.m. It serves as the club’s fall fundraiser, which helps in support of giving to organizations such as the YMCA, the Boys Scouts, Cancer Services, Hospice & Palliative Care (now Trellis Supportive Care, Arts for Life and more.

The event includes the walk of about 1.3 miles through the lights along with hot chocolate, food, face painting and games. Vendors and food trucks also will be available.

Susan Joy, president of the Clemmons Rotary Club, said that about 1,600 came out last year in the rain, which didn’t dampen their spirits.

“Fond memories include watching the kids light up when they saw Santa, listening to people sing carols around the fires where they were making s’mores and all the families that took their annual holiday pictures in front of their favorite light displays,” Joy said. “This year, as we have been promoting it, it has been wonderful to hear from families that came last year, had a great time and are definitely coming back.”

On Monday and Tuesday, Tanglewood goes to the dogs with the fifth annual Paws in the Park, which has been expanded to two nights this year. This is a large fundraiser for the Humane Society of Davie County with money raised through tickets and donations going to rescue and adoption programs.

Like the other events, purchasing tickets is required in advance online — www.davienchumane.org — with timed entrances scheduled each night at 5:30 p.m., 7 p.m. and 8:30 p.m. Like the other events, vendors and food trucks will be available.

The Clemmons Rotary Club partners with the Humane Society of Davie County as host for Tuesday.

This all leads up to the main event when the Festival of Lights, which has been selected as a Top 20 Event in the Southeast and a Top 100 Event in North America, returns for its 27th season.

The first Festival of Lights was a 1.5-mile route with 25 displays but has now expanded to nearly 5 miles and more than 100 displays along with more than a million LED lights.

The operating hours are nightly from 6 p.m. to 11 p.m. Family rates are $15 for cars, vans and trucks; commercial rates for vans, limos and mini-buses are $35; and rates for motorcoaches and buses are $100. Discount rates on Monday and Tuesday nights, Nov. 19-20 and Nov. 26-27, are $5 for family cars, vans and trucks; $15 for commercial vans, limos and mini-buses; and $65 for motorcoaches and buses.

Jessica Sanders, marketing and events manager, said that last year’s attendance was 250,000 and that the weather always plays a key factor in how many people will attend over the six-week stretch.

Sanders said that more new displays have been added for 2018 and that the Gift Shop — with holiday crafts and wood workings made by local artisans — will be open to the public for a pre-sale event on Sunday from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. and Monday from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m.

Sanders added that due to unforeseen circumstances that Santa and Mrs. Claus will not be available to attend this year’s Festival of Lights.