DU QUOIN - Holiday Lights Fair, which made its debut last Christmas season at the Du Quoin State Fairground, will be bigger and better this year, its planners promise.
The event will open Friday, Dec. 7, the same weekend of Du Quoin's annual Christmas Stroll, and close on Dec. 30. Hours will be 6 to 10 p.m. Thursdays through Sundays. It combines the drive-through lighted display with displays, entertainment and Santa inside a heated building.
The group's planning committee announced Thursday that it will receive a $25,000 state grant, to be matched with $25,000 in local funds to be raised by the Carbondale Convention and Tourism Bureau, which serves both Jackson and Perry counties.
Those funds will help continue and expand the drive-through lighted animated displays, special events and other attractions, said Cathy Trowbridge, who wrote the grant proposal and heads the Du Quoin Tourism Board.
Trowbridge also "did a superb job finding us a supplier for our displays," said Debbie Moore, CCTB executive director. "We will have many more fair-themed items as well as holiday displays." Those will be added to the giant carousel, Santa, snowflakes, Ferris wheel and other displays from last year.
"We're adding elves, skaters, tree decorators, skating bears, and a train filled with animals. There also will be deer, elk, moose" and other critters among the lighted displays, Moore said. "The kids love the animals." With the added displays, the route will be longer this year.
Inside the Exhibition Hall, Santa will be on hand. There also will be live entertainment featuring well-known regional musicians. Food ranging from carry-out sacks to complete meals will be available this year as well.
Holiday Lights Fair also will include contests for table settings and decorated trees. "We want to encourage area businesses and malls to enter trees and table settings - it will be great advertising for them, with the number of people who will be visiting," said Elizabeth Stieler of the Du Quoin group.
"We will have a different theme every weekend" in the Exhibition Hall, Trowbridge said. There will be Victorian, Holiday Trails, Holiday Family Weekend and a Fifties Weekend.
"We hope to see some aluminum Christmas trees entered," Moore said. All contest entries will be on display throughout the event.
Wanda Rednour described some of the decorations she's already planning; some will use items recycled from other events.
"We have an eight-person steering committee that does the work of 25," Moore said of the event planners. "They're creative, hard working and not afraid to get their hands dirty."
Those with limited shopping time around the holidays will get a chance to create customized gift baskets during Holiday Lights Fair. Visitors may buy baskets, then fill them with locally produced food products, arts and crafts. There also will be some commemorative items available for purchase.
Those who are interested in their products being included may contact Roxanne Conley at the Carbondale Convention and Tourism Bureau, 1-800-526-1500 or 529-4451. Conley also will be the contact for those willing to volunteer to help with Holiday Lights Fair.
Last year, despite some icy and bitter cold weather on a couple of weekends, the event attracted 1,600 carloads of visitors. "We hope to see 5,000 cars this year, approximately 15,000 people," Moore said. Admission will remain at $5 per car.