A few weeks ago, our entire team at The Pilot had the opportunity to volunteer one evening at the annual Festival of Lights event. This was my first experience with this dazzling event - and I was in for a huge treat.

Steve and I were assigned to ticket sales at one of the Azalea Park garden entrances. Having been through the azalea gardens this summer, we knew where we were going, but still arrived early to ensure we had time to walk through the display of lights before starting our shift.

From the Festival of Lights committee members, there had been much buzz about the increased number of lights this year. Oh. My. Goodness. Two million lights.

You read that correctly. The volunteers had crafted 2 million lights into a remarkable, festive, thoughtful, musical, joyous display.

To put this into perspective, the town of Leavenworth, Washington prides itself on being a year-round Christmas village. It’s a town nationally promoted as a tourist destination for its Christmas “feel.” A highly regarded national news publication recently touted Leavenworth as being a “Hallmark Christmas movie” sort of place.

Leavenworth boasts half a million lights across town … one-quarter of the lights Brookings has on display in Azalea Park alone.

Volunteering was the perfect way to begin our holiday season. Without fail, visitors to the gardens were happy to be there. Steve and I were consistently greeted by a wide variety of, “Happy Holidays!”

The mood was festive and heartwarming. Young people were hanging out together in the park, families were sharing a special time, and it appeared there were a fair number of couples having a “date night.”

So, a giant thank you to the Festival of Lights committee that makes this happen each year. Thank you to the sponsors who help finance it. Thank you to the volunteers for the remarkable number of hours you give to set up, operate and eventually take down this display. Thank you to the volunteer security staff who ensure their fellow volunteers and guests are safe in the park.

And thank you to the tens of thousands of visitors who came to appreciate their efforts.

The Festival of Lights display continues through Sunday. It will be open Christmas Eve and Christmas night. I encourage you to visit.

And to all you readers, I wish you the very best of this remarkable season. Our family will be a bit scattered this year, but this week will find some of us lighting another Hanukkah candle, some of us will be lighting the last Advent candle, some of us simply will be hanging out by a fireplace awaiting Santa.

Come Christmas Eve, Steve and I will be reading the Luke 2 story at our church.

Like our readers, our family is a diverse group. We will celebrate this season in our own way, but all will be sharing the special joy and love.

My Christmas wish for you is for your holiday to be filled with special joy and love, too.

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