Isn’t it funny how the things you tend to really enjoy you just don’t do yourself?
Take Christmas light displays, for example. I will drive miles to see a beautiful display of Christmas lights. But in my own yard… well, we have a couple of lawn decorations. Sad, but true.
Though we didn’t drive to Minnesota just to view the Mankato Christmas lights, this beautiful public display in Sibley Park was a highlight of our winter weekend.
Kiwanis Holiday Lights in Mankato, Minnesota
First appearing in Sibley Park in 2012 and growing each year, the Kiwanis Holiday Lights are worth driving in for. Over 1.2 million lights (all LED) cover the park – draped in trees, adorning covered walkways, outlining elaborate displays, and dancing, wonderfully choreographed, to Christmas classics.
Unlike so many large holiday light displays, which are corporately sponsored and charge an entry fee, the Mankato Christmas lights are 100% volunteer driven and free to enjoy. Donations of cash and non-perishable food are taken as you enter the park, collected by volunteers from over 70 local non-profit organizations.
We were lucky enough to walk through the display with the President of the Kiwanis Holiday Lights Board, Scott Wojcik, who shared with us a few ‘behind the scenes’ factoids.
- If the lights were placed end to end, they would cover 78 miles!
- But it only costs $50 a night to power all the lights due to the energy efficiency of LED lights.
- The central tree alone has 50,000 lights – that’s 1000 lights for every foot!
- Though some of the displays have been purchased (most from other Christmas light displays that have shut down), the majority of displays you see have been made by volunteers.
- Set up takes 10 days. but tear down only takes 4. Apparently January’s bitter cold inspires quickness!
- The Kiwanis Holiday Lights are completely supported by donations and in-kind contributions.
- 30 tons of food was donated to area food shelves in the first 2 years.
- Over $60,000 has been donated to local non-profit organizations that volunteered.
As we strolled along the light-strewn pathways what impressed me most was that this incredible display was created by the people of Mankato for the enjoyment and benefit of others. Pride of Place was evident in everyone we spoke with- from the volunteers who welcomed us as we entered the park, to the volunteers who were stationed throughout the displays. Everyone was friendly, welcoming, and full of the Christmas Spirit.
Making the holiday Merry & Bright, indeed.
Tips for Visiting the Kiwanis Holiday Lights in Mankato, Minnesota
Dress Warm! The best way to view the lights is on foot. Along the pathways you’ll find Warming Houses with snacks & hot chocolate (fee), the row of trees decorated by the volunteer organizations, reindeer, a skating rink (free; bring your own skates), and Santa’s Workshop.
Enjoy the View from a Horse Drawn Wagon! Friday, Saturday, and Sunday nights you can enjoy the lights from a horse drawn wagon for $5 per person.
Arrive Early… and Stay a While. The lights turn on at 5pm. Take your time enjoying the park on foot before you drive through.
Bring an Extra Camera Battery! I learned – first hand- that the cold weather quickly drains camera batteries! Bring extras if you want to take lots of photos!
Enjoy the Displays Over and Over Again. Opening the day after Thanksgiving and running through December 31 gives you plenty of time to make the trip to Mankato – more than once if you like!
Learn More. Visit the official website of the Kiwanis Holiday Lights.
Visiting Mankato? We recommend the Holiday Inn Express & Suites. Spacious rooms, wifi & complimentary breakfast make it family friendly!
Thanks to Visit Greater Mankato for inviting us to Mankato – and making sure the Kiwanis Holiday Lights were part of our itinerary!