A sparkling array of color and the rising crescendo of “Let It Go” greeted visitors strolling into Jaycees Park Saturday night as young and old endured some frigid temperatures to enjoy the NaperLights spectacle and snap a photo or two in the lap of an oversized teddy bear or in front of an 80-foot Christmas tree.
“It’s absolutely gorgeous,” Dave Heubel said. “This would be two years. It’s something we plan to do every year. I mean we loved it so much the first time that we were out here again.”
Heubel’s son, Noah, said he hopes it becomes another family tradition like their annual viewing of “The Muppet Christmas Carol” every Christmas Eve.
NaperLights is a free extravaganza of seasonal sights and sounds along the Naperville Riverwalk and Water Street, punctuated by a collection of lit-up decorations that run the gamut from snowmen and carolers to penguins and polar bears. It’s open every night from 4 to 10 pm through New Year’s Eve in Jaycees Park, where Santa stops by at 6 pm every Friday and Saturday.
“It’s fun,” responded 2-year-old Aidan Schmidt, of Lockport, when Kristen Schmidt and John Gudac asked what he thought of the dazzling display presented by the Rotary Club of Naperville Sunrise for the 10th year.
Kristin said they’ve come a couple years because she loves “seeing all the lights,” and Gudac said it was a nice end to a day that began with his family’s holiday tradition of making pierogies.
The magic of the holidays is especially poignant for new Rotary Club member Jan Erickson.
“It’s magical,” she said as she handed out 3D glasses to help enhance the light display experience. “(The holidays have) always been magical from the time I was little. It’s just a time when – it makes me cry – people are usually kind to one another. Kindness doesn’t cost. It’s a free thing that you give away.”
The glasses just add to the magical quality, which delighted Savannah Bramwell when she gave them a try.
“Each light looks like a reindeer,” Bramwell said as she peered through the lenses. “I think growing up makes Christmas spirit just a bit more difficult so I think that all these lights is just kind of like childhood memories. I always loved lights.”
“This is so pretty,” Bramwell’s friend, Fernanda Balandran Amesias, agreed. The glasses make the display look “kind of blingy. I think it just gives like a Christmas mood,” she said.
That mood is what inspired Jesus Garza Jr., Ysidora Garza and Jesus Garza Sr. to drive from their Chicago home near Midway Airport to check out NaperLights.
“It’s really nice. It’s really cozy,” Garza Jr. said as he viewed the lights adorning the giant tree through the 3D lenses.
“The ambience, the color of the trees, the lights — real nice setup,” Garza Jr. added. “We start off decorating on Thanksgiving day, and then we go to see the lights around town. We go to Lincoln Park. It’s our first time here, and then we’re gonna go to Lemont tonight.”
“We came from Orland Park just for this,” said Autumn Grimes, joined by Mark Seego and little Mckynzie Seego. Mark said “making cookies and seeing lights” are among their favorite holiday traditions.
Katie McStay, of Yorkville, said her family has “tons and tons” of traditions, like “the trees, the food, the whole thing.” Her family planned an entire evening around NaperLights, starting with dinner in the city and capped by wandering through the “beautiful” display.
“This is my first time looking at Christmas lights,” Jazmyn Moulder, of Plainfield said. “I think it’s very pretty. I like all the effort that was put into it.”
Ava Grant, a junior at Neuqua Valley, was among the volunteers from her high school’s Interact Club who helped set up NaperLights. She returned Saturday night to hand out 3D glasses.
“We actually set up maybe a month ago, and then tonight is just kind of everyone walking through and enjoying the lights,” Ava said. “I think it’s really fulfilling just seeing everyone enjoying the holidays. It’s cold out, but it’s made up for by everyone’s just (being) in a good mood.”
Rotary Volunteer Erickson kept her good mood throughout the evening despite the blustery winds.
“There’ll be a hot toddy later, but for right now I think that this is a really good thing,” Erickson said. “We’re sharing 3D glasses with folks that are interested in coming to look at the lights and, of course, taking donations if folks so choose.
“I’ve enjoyed this with my grandkids, and I’m happy to share … because it’s Christmastime, holiday time. Why not?”
Diane Moca is a freelance reporter for the Naperville Sun.