By Steve Summers and Kevin Haas
Rock River Current
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ROCKFORD — Work is underway to bring a holiday tradition back to Sinnissippi Park, where thousands of cars tour through a drive illuminated by decorative lights.

The annual Festival of Lights is scheduled to debut on Friday, Nov. 26 — the day after Thanksgiving — and runs on Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays through New Year’s Eve. There are extended hours closer to Christmas.

There will be about 85 displays this year, including about 10 fully lit character displays that stand roughly 15-feet tall.

“There’s a lot of new stuff that’s going to be out there this year. We have to keep trying to make it bigger every year,” Ted O’Donnell, co-chairman of the festival, told Steve Summers on This Week in the Stateline. “We gotta go all out.”

Related: ‘Event classics will be back’: Stroll on State returns to Rockford

O’Donnell, along with co-chairman and cousin Tom Luepkes and a small team of volunteers, puts together the annual lights display.

“It is very gratifying to see the cars come through, finally, when you click the lights on and see the faces pressed against the window,” O’Donnell said. “It makes us feel like, yes, all these hours away from our families on top of working our regular job, it’s worth it. It’s absolutely worth it.”

Last year, with the coronavirus pandemic shutting down many other festivities, approximately 104,000 people went through the display. O’Donnell said about 90,000 are expected this year.

The Festival of Lights debuts the day before Stroll on State, a one-day holiday tradition in the city, and the two events can compliment each other.

“People after Stroll, if they want, on their way out of downtown they can swing by the park, wave to us, we’ll be out there working it,” O’Donnell said.

The festival is free to go through. It’s funded by donations and sponsorship.

Festival of Lights viewing schedule

  • 5 p.m. to 11 p.m. Nov. 26-28
  • 5 p.m. to 11 p.m. Dec. 2-5
  • 5 p.m. to 11 p.m. Dec. 9-12
  • 5 p.m. to 11 p.m. Dec. 16-19
  • 5 p.m. to 11 p.m. Dec. 20-23
  • 24 hours on Christmas Eve
  • 24 hours on Christmas Day
  • 5 p.m. to 11 p.m. on Dec. 26
  • 5 p.m. to midnight on New Year’s Eve (last showing)
  • New Years Eve 5pm – 12am (last showing)

Santa Claus schedule

  • 6 p.m. to 8 p.m. Nov. 26-28; Dec. 3-5; Dec. 10-12; Dec. 17-19

Listen to the full interview below. The full episode of This Week in the Stateline airs on Saturday on 95.3 The Bull, a partner of the Rock River Current.