One of the largest lighted holiday events in the Midwest returns to central Illinois during the 33rd annual East Peoria Festival of Lights, running from Nov. 23 through Dec. 31.

Many of the festival events are named for Folepi, the festival’s toy soldier mascot and an acronym for “Festival Of Lights East Peoria Illinois.”

The Folepi Construction Crew, the group of volunteers who create and maintain the parade floats and displays, was busy during the year working on parade floats and refurbishing two-dimensional displays that are part of the Folepi’s Winter Wonderland drive-through display. Eight of the larger two-dimensional displays were stripped of all their lights, painted and then had new light strings placed on them. In all, the group placed 10,350 lights on those displays, all by hand since there is no machine that can do that type of work.

The Parade of Lights is the official start of the festival, occurring at 5:45 p.m. Nov. 18. Approximately 30 lighted floats, many animated, will glide along a new parade route this year. The 2017 parade will start at the intersection of East Washington Street and Dolans Lane, where Auto Zone is located. It will continue along its traditional Washington Street route, turning left at the intersection with Camp Street. 

Shortly after that, the route will change. The floats will turn right from Washington onto Taylor Street at East Peoria Autobody, and continue along Taylor in front of Central Junior High School, ending at Taylor Street and Springfield Road at the U.S. Post Office. A map of the new parade route is available at www.folepi.org.

Handicapped parking will be available along Taylor Street in areas designated with handicap signage. Vehicles must have a handicapped sticker, license plate or dash card. Overnight parking will be permitted as long as vehicles are properly tagged. A limited number of handicapped parking spots are available.

In the days following the parade, the floats will be moved into a city park in preparation for the opening of the festival’s signature display, Folepi’s Winter Wonderland.  

Folepi’s Winter Wonderland opens at 5 p.m. Thanksgiving night and will remain open through New Year’s Eve, including Christmas Eve and Christmas night. Featured are lighted parade floats and themed display areas such as the Western Town, Circus Land, Space Travel and the Prehistoric Area. Some visitors may even be lucky enough to see a marriage proposal as the festival usually hosts a few each year. Winter Wonderland hours are 5 to 9 p.m. Sunday through Thursday and 5 to 11 p.m. Friday and Saturday. Admission is $10 per vehicle and $150 for full-size charter buses. Entrance wait times Sunday through Thursday nights are usually significantly less than on Friday and Saturday night, so visitors should plan appropriately.

Those who enjoy a stroll in the brisk night air should visit Folepi’s Enchanted Forest at 401 W. Washington St., in East Peoria’s Levee District shopping area. Folepi’s Enchanted Forest features the festival’s 35-foot tall Christmas tree, real lighted trees with decorations by students from East Peoria’s grade schools, a 30-foot inflatable snowman and the Terry the Tractor parade float. Inside the Civic Plaza, kids of all ages can visit with Santa from 5:30-7:30 p.m. Saturday, Nov. 25, and on Friday nights Dec. 1, 8, 15 and 22. Free popcorn and hot chocolate will also be available those nights. The forest is a popular place for taking selfies, something even more fun this year with the new Festival of Lights Snapchat filter which will be available Nov. 25 through Dec. 22.

The forest will open for the season during an official lighting ceremony, featuring carols by the Caterpillar Employees Mixed Chorus, from 5:45 to 6:15 p.m. Nov. 25.

After the kids visit Santa on Dec. 15, they can have even more holiday fun at the Make A Holiday Button and Other Easy Crafts event, sponsored by Fondulac District Library inside the Civic Plaza from 5:30-7:30 p.m. The event is free of charge.

Another lighted display, the Narrated Nativity, located at the intersection of Taylor Street and Springfield Road, has a three-dimensional appearance at night and details the “reason for the season”. Those tuning to radio station 1610 AM will hear a 2-minute narration. Admission is free. Unlike the rest of the festival displays, the Narrated Nativity is funded by private donations through the Nativity Display Association.

 

Other FOL Events

The lights are the star of the show, but there are many other events that comprise the Festival of Lights.

• Find Folepi - The ornament hunt will begin with the release of the first clue on Nov. 22. Clues will be posted each Wednesday on www.folepi.org and www.facebook.com/EPFestivalofLights, and in the East Peoria Times-Courier. The winner will receive a prize package worth more than $1,000 and the hunt is open to everyone.

• FOLEPI River Trail Classic and Get Lit runs - The FOLEPI River Trail Classic competitive run and non-competitive walk is Nov. 25 on the River Trail of Illinois. The run starts at 9 a.m., preceded by the walk at 8:30 a.m. The family friendly Get Lit fun run occurs at 11:50 p.m. New Year’s Eve in Folepi’s Winter Wonderland. Entry forms are available on www.folepi.org.

• Christmas Splendor Exterior Decorating Contest – Sponsored by the East Peoria Beautification Commission, this contest is an official Festival of Lights event. East Peoria residents, neighborhoods, schools, churches and businesses are challenged to deck the halls, porch, roof and windows. Nominations will be accepted Nov. 18 through Dec. 1 at 5 p.m., and an entry form and details are available at www.folepi.org.

• Postage Cancellation Stamp – Decorate your mail with the special Festival of Lights postage cancellation stamp, commissioned by the East Peoria Chamber of Commerce. This cancellation stamp is available one day only, from 9 a.m. until noon Dec. 2 at the East Peoria Post Office, and features the words “East Peoria Festival of Lights Station”.

• Theatrical productions - Included among festival events are several theatrical productions. Eastlight Theatre’s Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat will be presented for its 27th year. The musical is set for 7:30 p.m. Dec. 1, 2, 6, 7, 8, and 9 and at 2 p.m. Dec. 3 and 10 and is performed at the Bryon Moore Auditorium at East Peoria Community High School. The Festival of Lights Cruises on the Spirit of Peoria paddle-wheeler features the show A Celtic Christmas. In addition, Central Illinois Ballet will present The Nutcracker at the Illinois Central College Performing Arts Center at 7 p.m. Dec. 15, and 2 p.m. and 7 p.m. Dec. 16 and 2 p.m. Dec. 17.

• Folepi’s Gifts Galore Shop and Stroll – Set in East Peoria’s Historic Four Corners District and adjacent areas, this event runs from 1 until 4 p.m. Dec. 2 and features shopping in locally owned stores, carols by the East Peoria Community High School Chorale, visits with Santa, and free balloon art by The Unique Twist. Many of the participating businesses will offer door prize drawings and holiday refreshments. Those spending $25 or more at the participating businesses will receive a coupon to enter the Folepi’s Winter Wonderland drive-through display for free.

For more info about the Festival, visit www.folepi.org, www.facebook.com/EPFestivalofLights, www.epcc.org or call toll-free 1-855-833-5327.