The holidays are perfect for spending time with family and friends. What better way to do that than in the comfort of your vehicle driving through a park that has been transformed with hundreds of thousands of twinkling lights set to music aired on your radio? Already know we are talking about Making Spirits Bright, the drive through holiday lights show in Evergreen Park in Sheboygan? Are you someone who visits multiple times and just can’t wait for the first snowfall to enhance the experience? What, haven’t visited yet, then this is the year!

Driving through Making Spirits Bright can be the ideal way to enjoy an escape from the hustle and bustle of the holidays. Open from November 23 through December 31 (closed Christmas Eve, December 24), there are 38 total nights when the event is open to the public from 5:00 to 9:00 PM. 

This is the event’s seventh year and each one gets bigger and better. It all began with members of the Sheboygan County Rotary Clubs as a means to spread holiday cheer in combination with doing good for the community. While entrance to Making Sprits Bright is free, food pantry item donations are requested. All donated items are delivered to the Sheboygan County Food Bank each night and their volunteers disburse to food pantries throughout the county. The donations come at a time of year when need is the greatest so the creation of the Making Spirits Bright event has been important for so many people. The grand total of pantry items donated over the past six years is 373,000 pounds - that’s more than 186 tons!

While many of us immediately think of canned goods when we hear the words “food drive” please also consider donating personal care items which typically run low at the food pantries. These may include shampoo, soap, toothpaste, deodorant, tissue and toilet paper, diapers, and baby wipes. If you prefer to contribute food, here are some of the most requested items: canned tuna or chicken, peanut butter, rice, whole wheat pasta, oatmeal, and canned fruits. Please also watch expiration dates of donated items. 

Visitors to Making Spirits Bright may also choose to contribute a monetary donation at the completion of the route. These funds support the building and refurbishing of displays and other costs associated with this incredible undertaking. A portion of monies collected is also donated to local not-for-profits in exchange for service.  Even if you are not inclined to offer a monetary donation, make sure to receive a complimentary copy of the event booklet from the volunteers in the igloo.

What can you expect at Making Spirits Bright? When you drive the 1.1 mile route, you begin by tuning your radio to 89.1FM. The lights are choreographed to the music played on your radio. A sampling of some of the displays is Whoville, Magical Igloo, North Pole Post Office, Northern Lights, and Candyland.  The perennial favorites are the Icicle Tunnel, Overhead Stars, and Racing Arches. In addition to the lights show, you may even catch a glimpse of the local wildlife that calls the park their home.

If you prefer someone else drive you through the park, or you have a large group that would like to be together, ride the trolley. Boarding begins across the street at Quarryview Center every Friday through Sunday night. The trolley leaves every 45 minutes (from 5:15 to 8:15 PM on Fridays and Saturdays and 5:15 to 7:30 PM on Sundays) and is $2 per person with children under one free. The trolley is fully enclosed and features old-fashioned style with modern conveniences. Decorative wooden bench seating and the wood and brass interior will make you feel like you are riding a street car of yesteryear. And don’t worry about the weather outside; the trolley is heated to assure comfort.

While at Quarryview Center, consider purchasing raffle tickets to enter the drawing to win wreaths specially crafted by professional local designers. Enjoy complimentary entertainment from local musicians including a swing choir, an accordion band, a violinist, local school choirs, and more. Here you’ll also find concessions for sale such as frosted cookies, brownies, popcorn, hot chocolate, cider, and coffee. Relaxing with some refreshment in the festive Quarryview setting is a great way to begin or end your Making Spirits Bright evening. The Memory Ornament tree is also found here and you can purchase a customized ornament for $15.

One of the most popular attractions at Quarryview Center is Santa. You’ll find him in the ideal setting for taking that annual holiday photo. Bring your own camera or phone though since the volunteers aren’t able to shoot photos with Santa.

Keep in mind that Quarryview Center is open every Friday through Sunday from November 23 through December 23, 5:00 to 9:00 PM.  So each Monday through Thursday, you can drive through Making Spirits Bright but won’t be able to include a stop at Quarryview too.

In the six years that Making Spirits Bright has taken place, there have been some great side stories: one couple had their first date while another got engaged in the park, 25 members of the local Jeep club decorated their vehicles and paraded through, motor coaches have planned the event as the stop for a trip, seniors from an assisted living facility in Milwaukee were treated to a drive through the park, and watch for license plates on vehicles from throughout the nation. This event has added to the attractions that make Sheboygan County a tourist destination.

When you are ready to be a part of the behind-the-scene activities, there are many ways to volunteer. The success of the event hinges on hundreds of people who invest thousands of hours. The large scale of Making Spirits Bright means work goes on year-round and there are volunteer options for people of all skill levels and availability of time commitment. For details, visit the Volunteer page on the web site at the end of this article.

Take some time for yourself, gather family, friends and your pets, and find time to make the drive through Making Spirits Bright. You’ll discover a new holiday tradition that will excite your spirits while warming your heart through the generosity of contributing pantry item donations to those who really need the help.

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