Festival of Lights shines, dazzles, twinkles in 20th year

LIHUE — Plastic bottles, soda pull tabs, Arizona Green Tea cans and Slurpee lids are among some of the materials fabricated into hundreds of decorations and ornaments showcased every year at the annual Festival of Lights at the Historic County Building.

In its 20th year, the Festival of Lights was founded by local artist Elizabeth Freeman and was first showcased in Kilohana before being held in its current location since 1997.

“This is a delightful way for people to see what is being done now as well as a trip down memory lane,” Freeman said.

The first years of the event showcased pieces by Kauai resident Josie Chansky, who for 18 years decorated her Kapaa Christmas House with brightly-lit decorations from the top to bottom, Freeman said.

What made Chansky’s decorations so special was her ability to create them from recycled and natural material: flash cubes, toothpicks, soda cans and pine cones were among the materials to create her decorations.

In 1996, Chansky’s husband passed away and she was unable to put up her decorations and lights.

She decided to sell them at a garage sale. Freeman purchased about of half of Chansky’s collection to keep the Kauai Christmas tradition going.

Freeman and Chansky donated the entire collection to the County of Kauai and birthed the annual tradition on the Garden Isle.

“My first concern was preserving auntie Josie’s collection,” Freeman said. “The second was what to do with the other 80 percent of the space and how to make it delightful for people coming in. I think people get a super wonderful experience when they come to the county building because it’s up and down and all around.”

This year’s theme — “Santa’s Gone Kauaiian” — outlines what St. Nick would do if he visited Kauai, Freeman said.

“Santa would go fishing and he would definitely ride an outrigger canoe,” Freeman said, pointing at the two Santa-themed decorations on the second floor of the building.

New decorations this year also include the Kauai Mermaid Kingdom, Starfish Tree, Over the Rainbow Tree, Santa’s Cane Train and the Kauai Tree.

“In honor of our 20th year anniversary, every ball has a town on Kauai as well as sayings … a real tribute to this amazing island,” Freeman said.

Freeman enlists the help of about 120 volunteers from students from different schools to volunteers from Kauai Community Correctional Center to firefighters.

“We could not put up the Festival of Lights if it weren’t for certain and key volunteer groups,” Freeman said. “They help us create things, help with the restoration work and also with the installation.”

Starting this weekend, there are three special performances slated.

From 7 to 8 p.m. Saturday, Kapaa Middle School Choir and Ukulele Band will perform Christmas tunes. The following day, flutist Rene Janten will perform.

The weekend after that, local violinist Kimberly Hope McDonough will perform Friday and Saturday.

The Festival of Lights is open every Friday, Saturday and Sunday evening with Santa and Mrs. Claus from 6 to 8 p.m. through Dec. 24 and will also be open on Dec. 30.


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