During the holiday season, there are numerous beautiful, twinkling Christmas light displays held throughout and nearby St. Louis, but the Way of Lights at the Shrine of Our Lady of the Snows in Belleville, Illinois, stands out as a singular destination. Less than thirty minutes across the state border between Missouri and Illinois, this event is totally free for visitors and focuses on the religious background of Christmas, telling the story of the birth of Jesus. There is nothing secular about it and pop-culture icons like Frosty the Snowman or even Santa Claus will not be found.
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 manger scene that depicts the central moment from the biblical story, including barnyard animals.
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
In 2019, the Way of Lights will be celebrating its 50th anniversary and will be on display from November 19 to December 31. The outdoor light displays are open every night, including Thanksgiving, Christmas Eve, Christmas Day, and New Year's Eve, but the restaurant, gift shop, and other indoor attractions are closed on the holidays. Tuesday nights are family nights with special events planned and discounts available.
The cost to drive through the display is free for everyone. Donations are accepted as visitors leave the shrine. However, there are costs associated with attractions like camel rides and food, but members of the military should inquire about a discount on these activities.
More Than Just 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 doing something special, you can take a carriage ride through the display. St. Louis Carriage Company offers rides every night except for Saturday.
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.