Spectacular holiday lights shows are prevalent across Central Illinois
Drive beyond Champaign-Urbana to take in some magnificent light shows this holiday season
Are you willing to drive all over Central Illinois for good holiday lights shows? Don’t worry, we do this every year! We’ve put together a short list of the top Christmas light shows across the greater Central Illinois region, including Peoria, Mattoon, Shelbyville, Urbana, Chatham and more.
Most of these listed are permanent, annual fixtures in their communities. These shows are more or less within a 90-minute drive of Champaign-Urbana, in every direction.
(Wondering about holiday lights closer to home? Check out our Amazing Christmas Lights around Champaign-Urbana local roundup, featuring displays in Champaign, Urbana, Paxton, Monticello, Mahomet and more.)
Chambanamoms thanks Be the Benchmark, LLC for presenting this list.
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Let’s travel around Central Illinois to our absolute favorite light displays for the holiday season!
What: A community tradition in Champaign-Urbana for more than 50 years, this is what happens when a determined group of neighbors create magic for area children — and never let it go. This amazing collection of modest homes will wow you with their holiday spirit and creativity.
When: Opening night is traditionally the second Saturday night in December, which would be Dec. 11 this year (yet to be confirmed). The display is lit every evening through Christmas, or some years, through Jan. 1. There’s traditionally been an “opening ceremony” the first night it is illuminated; this didn’t happen in 2020 and we have yet to confirm if it will happen this year.
Where: Located at Grant Place in Urbana. Candlestick Lane is not a real street. Take Washington Street to Cottage Grove (south), turn onto Eastern Avenue, then to Grant Place. Go slow, some people walk this street.
East Peoria’s Winter Wonderland (FOLEPI)
What: Known as “Folepi” to locals, the Festival of Lights in East Peoria’s Winter Wonderland lights display has been a staple for more than 30 years. It is set to music — tune your vehicle’s radio to 88.1 for holiday music to accompany your drive — and make sure to keep your eyes peeled for the the popular ski jumper feature. Displays include lighted arches and circus animals, the Western town, Space Land, the Candy Cane Factory, Prehistoric Land and more. The Festival’s mascot is the wooden soldier Folepi, whose name serves as an acronym for “Festival of Lights, East Peoria, Illinois.”
When: Opens Nov. 25 (Thanksgiving) through Jan. 3; 5-9 p.m. Sunday-Thursday; 5-11 p.m. Friday and Saturday. For traffic updates, check the Festival of Lights Facebook page. It’s highly recommended to avoid Friday and Saturday, if possible.
Where: About 1.5 hours from Champaign-Urbana. I-74 West to East Peoria, Exit 96. For more information including directions, go to the Folepi website.
Cost?: Most vehicles are $10, except for small buses ($30), and full-size charter buses which are $150 (cash, debit and credit cards accepted).
What: A park in Downs turns into a holiday wonderland. Built by dedicated town volunteers, this is not nearly as elaborate as some of the others on this list, but fun nonetheless; an easy place to stop off Interstate 74.
When: Usually begins the first of December and runs into early January. On at dusk daily.
Where: Dooley Park, Downs. Downs is located about 45 minutes from Champaign-Urbana, right off of I-74 just southeast of Bloomington-Normal. You can visit this on your way to/from FOLEPI in Peoria.
What: Drive around McFerren Park and see graceful jumping reindeer, candy canes, Santa and a manger.
When: Opening on November 20 and running until New Year’s
Where: Located at McFerren Park in Hoopeston, about an hour northeast of Champaign-Urbana. Anyone coming into the park will have to enter and exit through the south entrance off of Elm Street.
What: Drive through more than a mile of brilliant holiday lights in Chatham Community Park. Includes more than 100,000 lights, sculptures, arches, Santa, and more.
When: Open Thursdays through Sundays from Nov. 26 through Dec. 26.
Where: Chatham is a suburb of Springfield, located just south of the capitol city. About 90 minutes from Champaign. The event takes place in the Chatham Community Park.
Cost? In the past, it has been a $5/carload suggested donation.
What: Climb aboard a golf cart after dark and drive through a path of lit trees.
When: Dec. 9-12 and 15-19, 5-5:30 p.m. (walkers) and 6-9 p.m. (riders)
Where: Hickory Point Golf Course, Decatur
Cost? $4 per walker or $7 per rider (under 2 is free, no ticket required). Get tickets in advance.
What: A drive-through holiday lights experience located in LaSalle, near Starved Rock and Matthiessen State Parks.
When: Nov. 15 through Jan. 1, 5-9 p.m., Sunday through Thursday; 5-10 p.m. Friday and Saturday
Where: City of LaSalle, 90 minutes from C-U
Cost?: The display is free to view but donations are always welcome.
Holiday Lights – Central Illinois South Loop
Start in Champaign-Urbana, stop in Mattoon, head to Effingham, next over to Shelbyville and back to C-U.
Total drive time: 3 hours and 30 minutes
What: Drive through Community Park in Effingham for a magical display that lights up beginning Thanksgiving night. Look for reindeer flight school, a nativity scene and more. This year, there will be one SPECIAL walk-through night for the first time ever the night before Thanksgiving.
When: Thanksgiving night through Jan. 2, 5-9 p.m., Sunday through Thursday; 5-10 p.m. Friday and Saturday.
Where: Community Park in Effingham. Effingham is located just over an hour from Champaign-Urbana down I-57.
What: Drive through Mattoon’s beautiful Peterson Park to see a vast array of standard and animated holiday light displays. In recent years, new displays and LED lights have been added. Like Effingham, Mattoon Lightworks will be holding a special one-night walk-through event prior to official opening night.
When: Open Nov. 19-Dec. 28; hours coming soon.
Where: Peterson Park, Mattoon. About an hour south of Champaign-Urbana. Take I-57 South, exit 190 B.
Cost?: Free admission with donations accepted.
What: The display includes more than 500 lighted scenes with several lighted arches. Includes traditional displays like manger scenes and Santa with his reindeer, and some not-so-traditional such as a large lighted Menorah, and Santa riding a motorcycle. Watch this video before you go.
When: Open Nov. 19 through Jan. 1; 5-9 p.m., Sunday through Thursday; 5-10 p.m. Friday and Saturday.
Where: Forest Park, Shelbyville. About 1 hour, 20 minutes southwest of Champaign-Urbana.
Cost?: Free admission with donations accepted at the end.
Did we miss your favorite community lights display in Central Illinois? Email us – email@example.com.
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