Jacksonville Festival of Lights Ready to Brighten Fairgrounds

By Jeremy Coumbes on November 22, 2023 at 2:29pm

The holiday season’s newest area attraction gave a sneak peek Tuesday ahead of the official kick-off this weekend.

The Jacksonville Festival of Lights has taken over the majority of the Morgan County Fairgrounds over the last few weeks. The event is a drive-through Christmas-themed light display that invites participants to enjoy the elaborate light display from the warmth of their vehicles.

Tia Kephart (kep-hart) with Jacksonville Festival of Lights says a lot of effort has gone into making the event become a reality. “A lot of work behind the scenes, a lot of work. This has been in motion since the beginning of the year actually and we didn’t really go public for a while because we needed to get things lined up.

The first thought is now it gets real crazy because honestly now we have six weeks of every weekend and we’ll be out here along with volunteers. We couldn’t do this without volunteers honestly. I’m very excited, it has been a lot of work but it’s worth it. It’s absolutely worth it, it’s something that we believe in, the community needs this, and it’s something to bring everybody together. Holiday spirit brings everyone together.”

The Jacksonville Festival of Lights is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization and Kephart says several local service organizations have also chipped in by donating time or funding or both to help see the idea come to fruition.

An official ribbon cutting and media preview was held Tuesday evening. Mayor Andy Ezard says he is happy that the project came together as well as it did. “We’re very happy to be a part of this as a sponsor, you know, to help Sarah and her crew out and all the work that she has done and along with all money that came in from the community.

This is a long time coming and at this time at the fairgrounds is a logical choice. The infrastructure is here easy roads to work and get around. And it’s just another example of the community working together to make something happen. We’ve got a good track record of that and we look forward to kicking this light display off.”

Sarah Shellhammer with the Jacksonville Festival of Lights says the goal of the first year is to make the event self-sustainable so it can continue each year thereafter.

The project cost more than $75,000 to put on thanks to major sponsorship support from the City of Jacksonville, Village of South Jacksonville, Prairie State Bank, Casscom, Amvest Post 100, and Nestle of Jacksonville to name a few.

The project is in partnership with Eric & Nicole Dooley of Carthage who put on the Quincy Festival of Lights as well as in a few other communities. Not all of the lights were up in time for the sneak peek as rain earlier in the week put a damper on set-up work. However, Shellhammer says all of the displays will be set up and ready to go by Friday’s grand opening.

She says if proved successful at being a self-sustaining project, the decorations would be switched out from year to year with a different theme. Shellhammer says in the future, if the event were to become profitable, she would like to see it one day be able to provide charitable donations to an area charity.

For she says she hopes the event is a success and people enjoy the show. The Jacksonville Festival of Lights kicks off this Friday, November 24th, and will run weekly Thursday through Sunday from 5:00 to 9:00 pm through New Year’s Eve.

For more information, go to the Jacksonville Festival of Lights Facebook page or call 217-291-5722.