During the holiday season, there are numerous beautiful, twinkling Christmas light displays held throughout the St. Louis, Mo., region, but the Way of Lights at the Shrine of Our Lady of the Snows in Belleville, Ill., stands out as a singular destination. First, it's free for all visitors to drive through the gorgeous display. Second, the Way of Lights focuses on the religious background of telling the story of Jesus' birth; it doesn't feature secular, pop-culture holiday tales like Frosty the Snowman and Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer.
Fans of holiday lights from all faiths are welcome at the Christian shrine, which has been presented since 1970 by a Roman Catholic order, the Missionary Oblates of Mary Immaculate.
Filled with more than 1.5 million shining bulbs and LEDs, the Way of Lights is adorned with artistic stretches of lights on strings as well as electronic free-standing art sculptures. The center of attraction is the the Lourdes Grotto manger scene that depicts the central moment from the Biblical Christmas story. The manger tableau features barnyard animals in the grand tradition, and this year it will be home to a plush lamb made the popular Build-A-Bear Workshop company.
Many visitors will be glad to learn that the Way of Lights recycles its lights to cut down on waste, and many of its strings and other decorations date back to its early years. Of course, new lights are added each year, too, to keep the display current and pretty.
When to Go
The Way of Lights opens every year the Friday before Thanksgiving and closes in late December. For the 2018 season, the Way of Lights is open from Friday, Nov. 16 through to Tuesday, January 1. The outdoor light displays are open every night, including Thanksgiving, Christmas Eve, Christmas Day, and New Year's Eve, but the Shrine restaurant, gift shop, and other indoor attractions are closed on the holidays. Tuesday nights are family nights with special events and discounts.
The cost to drive through the display is free for everyone. Donations are accepted as visitors leave the shrine. Everyone who donates at least $15 gets a plush stuffed animal toy by Build-a-Bear as a gift.
More Than Lights
With more than a million twinkling lights, the drive-through display is the big draw, but there are other things to do at the Way of Lights as well. There is a puppet show for kids and a nativity scene made of Lego blocks. Kids will also like the animal rides and petting zoo; there are admission fees for some activities. If you feel like something special, take a carriage ride through the display. St. Louis Carriage Company offers rides every night but Saturday.
The Shrine restaurant and gift shop are also open nightly (except Thanksgiving, Christmas Eve and Christmas Day).
The Way of Lights is located about 20 minutes from downtown St. Louis at Our Lady of the Snows Shrine in Belleville. To get to the Shrine take Interstate 255 to exit 17A (Illinois Highway 15 east). Then, go about one mile on Highway 15, and you will see the entrance to the Shrine on the right, at 442 South DeMazenod Drive.