Lighting up the season

LIHUE — Elizabeth Freeman said she always gets a little giddy around this time of year when she and her army of volunteers put the finishing touches on the Festival of Lights displays.

“It has been my vision, every year, to create what I call the architecture of light and aloha,” said Freeman, who established the annual festival and has served as its art director for the past 18 years. “When you walk into the Historic County Building, once you’ve got all of the displays in there, everybody just goes, ‘Oh my gosh! It’s so beautiful,’ and that’s what you want.”

The entire process, however, starts long before most people begin their holiday shopping or even think about playing Christmas music.

“Creating is such a process for me, so I begin thinking about this in May,” Freeman said. “Once I look at the display last year, I decide what’s going to happen this year. I am an artist and designer professionally, so coming up with the ideas is one thing, but I also have to create all of the samples and then gather all of the materials that are needed so that, when the volunteers come in, I give them a complete tutorial on how to craft what goes on the tree. Obviously, I want this to look as beautiful and professional as possible. It’s like a director for a film — you gather all of the people around but they have to know what they want.”

Though the annual holiday festival showcases many displays from previous years and even some from Aunty Josie Chansky, whose elaborate Christmas decorations served as the inspiration for the festival, Freeman said she always tries to think of new ideas.

“We always update — we don’t ever want anybody to say, ‘Oh, I saw it already,’” Freeman said. “We always want it to stay new, fresh and fun, and have it be something special for people to come back to see.”

This year’s new Christmas tree display, Freeman said, is called “Lure of the Sea,” featuring sea creatures, such as sea anemones, jellyfish, starfish and sea urchins, that are made out of recyclable materials like plastic bottles, aluminum beverage cans and pipe cleaners.

Many of those decorations, she said, were made by volunteers from Kauai High School’s Academy of Hospitality and Tourism and Duke’s Kauai.

Freeman said she and other volunteers from Kapaa High School’s Interact Club have also freshened up a Christmas tree that is adorned with flowers made from plastic bottles and was created years ago by students from the Academy of Hospitality and Tourism.

“It’s a tree that’s very special because, actually, the decorations on it were first presented on a tree in (late) Sen. Daniel Inouye’s office in Washington and he fell in love with it,” Freeman said.

The Festival of Lights, and the Lights on Rice Parade, kicks off at 6 p.m. Friday, Dec. 5 at the Historic County Building in Lihue with a Kauai Chorale performance. After the parade, the displays in the Historic County Building will be open until 8 p.m.

The festival is open every Friday, Saturday and Sunday evening afterward from 6 to 8 p.m. through Dec. 21. The final night is on Saturday, Dec. 27.

For more information, contact Freeman at 639-8564.

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