Lighting Up Christmas

Created as a fundraiser for St. John Lutheran Church and School, the Ocala Christmas Light Spectacular will offer even more community activities this year.

Describing something as spectacular is often hyperbole. But in the case of the Ocala Christmas Light Spectacular, it may be an understatement.

Located at the Florida Horse Park through December 30th, the 1.8-mile drive-thru portion of the event alone features a dazzling 350 Christmas-themed displays. Just a sampling of the colorful, brightly lit and animated displays includes Christmas trees, toy soldiers, gingerbread houses and cookies, rocking horses, reindeer-pulled sleighs and Santa’s elves. If you’re not in the Christmas spirit by the end of the experience, then you may be a Scrooge—but there’s still hope as there is much more than just the drive-thru.

“At the end of the drive-thru is a massive Nativity scene, with a star 22-feet up,” says Tracy Williams, the director of finance for St. John Lutheran Church and School. “People can park their vehicles, including a designated handicap parking area, to enjoy Santa Land. Santa will greet the children and hand out gift bags. Parents can take pictures of their kids with Santa at no charge and there will be a station where children can write letters to Santa, ride a toy train and enjoy bounce houses.”

Williams notes that the public feedback from the inaugural 2021 event, which had 10,093 vehicles visit the drive-thru, has led to new additions.

“We will have food trucks on all seven nights with a wide variety of food items for sale. The hot cocoa food truck will be a special fundraising opportunity for school teams and organizations,” she says. “We also added more photo opportunities for families, including brightly decorated archways and sleighs.”

Toddlers ages 4 and under will have their own area to enjoy with their parents. Toddler Land will include two bounce houses, a corn crawl, sensory activities and a crafts area. 

“We tripled the walk-around area at the end of the drive-thru and we have incorporated elements of Hanukkah and Kwanzaa” Williams shares. “One of the most popular requests was for a skating rink, so we will have a pop-up rink provided by Ocala Premier Inflatables. It will cost $8 for 15 minutes and skates will be provided. Also new this year is a Christmas Reflection Labyrinth, where there are stations playing out the Christmas story.” 

The drive-thru portion of the event is provided and set up by Tavares-based Holiday Outdoor Decor and the work started in mid-September. This year’s event opened to the public on November 25th.

“Outside the drive-thru, everything else is done by our church and school staff and volunteers. It is quite an undertaking, with everyone working after school, work and on weekends just to set everything up. And then, once it opens, the event is totally operated by volunteers,” Williams explains. “The event couldn’t happen at all without our generous sponsors, both corporations and individuals, as well as community donations. And the Florida Horse Park people have been so welcoming and accommodating from the moment we brought the idea to them to host the event.”

For Florida Horse Park Executive Director Jason Reynolds, it has been a good partnership.

“We are thrilled to partner with St. John Lutheran Church and School for the Ocala Christmas Light Spectacular. For those who were able to enjoy the drive-thru among the more than 1 million lights, they truly understood just how spectacular an event it was,” Reynolds offers. “This year will surpass last year, and I cannot wait to bring my family to witness this magical event.”

The event has also exceeded the expectations of St. John Lutheran Pastor Rev. Jeff Shanks.

“We really didn’t know how the first event would be received and wondered if anyone would even show up. It was a big moment when the first headlights turned in and then the vehicles just kept coming and coming,” says Shanks. “As each night passed, we saw how families, some coming in their pajamas and setting out blankets, were just enjoying everything so much. The joy just kept building every night and that feeling was so wonderful for all of us. We invite everyone to join us this year and share in this joy.”  OS

OCALA CHRISTMAS LIGHT SPECTACULAR

WHERE: Florida Horse Park, 11851 SW 16th Avenue (County Road 475A), Ocala

WHEN: 6pm-10pm (last vehicle
allowed in at 9:30pm) Monday-Sunday, through December 30th
(closed Christmas Eve & Christmas Day)

TICKETS: Cars, SUVs, trucks and minivans, $20 Monday-Thursday through December 15th, $30 Friday-Sunday and $30 Monday-Friday December 19th-23rd; vans/minibuses (15 passengers), $50 all days; regular size buses, $100 all days; skating rink, $8 for 15 minutes. Pay at the gate with cash or credit card. You can purchase tickets online at ocalachristmas.com and you must redeem them on app/email or cellphone (do not bring printed ticket).

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