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Airdrie Festival of Lights: Two Decades of Bringing Together Airdrie

Just take a short 15-minute drive north of Calgary and you’ll find the welcoming and growing community of Airdrie. This city has roughly 60,000 residents and was recently named one of Alberta’s Top 12 Great Communities for Business, by Alberta Venture Magazine. You’ll find a vast array of things to do once you get to town. Airdrie has something for everyone! Take a stroll through one of their many beautiful parks, stop in at the various unique shops that call the city home or sample the culinary delights offered at one of the local restaurants. The residents of Airdrie are friendly and embrace the city’s growing economy and population. Not only is Airdrie a great place to visit but it's an ideal place to settle down. This warm and friendly city is the perfect location to celebrate the upcoming holiday season, at their Airdrie Festival of Lights.  


For the past two decades, the Airdrie Festival of Lights has been ringing in the season with fun activities and community involvement. It has been growing with the city over the years and it is now one of the premier holiday festivals in Alberta. This is one of the most comprehensive holiday festivals you’ll find anywhere with activities and events lasting the entire month of December. From rides on the mini Christmas train to enjoying the staggering amount of lights and decoration, there is something for all ages at the Airdrie Festival of Lights. Gather up the family and make Airdrie your next fun holiday adventure; you won’t be disapointed. We interviewed the Coordinator of the Airdrie Festival of Lights, Michelle Pirzek, to talk about this fun family holiday event.


RAL: Tell me a little bit about the Airdrie Festival of Lights.

MP: The Airdrie Festival of Lights is an independent, not for profit Society that is put on every year, thanks to all of our volunteers. We are open every day from December 1st to the 31st from 6 to 9 pm, which includes Christmas Eve, Christmas Day and Boxing Day. 


RAL: What makes the festival unique?

MP: We are Western Canada’s largest outdoor walk-through light display, where even 20 years later, admission is by donation of what people can afford. We keep costs low by collecting donations, securing corporate sponsorships, and utilizing volunteers to run the event. We are proud to say that, even 20 years later, we are the only display where someone with a limited budget can get in for nothing and enjoy the true spirit of Christmas without costing them an arm and a leg. This remains true to this day thanks to our volunteers who put on this event for the 31 days in December, but also work the entire year to plan for the coming seasons.


RAL: Take me through a typical day at the festival.

MP: We offer all sorts of local entertainment, including many school performances, local arts groups, performers, crafts, caroling, Improv Arts performers, storybook characters, and community group’s involvement. We also offer visitors the ability to ride one of our miniature trains through the lights. This year we have added to our fleet with a 100% electric train, complete with all the “Chugga-Chugga-Choo-Choos”, bells, and whistles! Train rides remain a very affordable $2 per person. Visitors can also enjoy a steamy cup of hot chocolate for only $2 per cup, while enjoying our blazing fire pits. We even encourage them to bring their own roasting sticks and marshmallows to complete the experience. It’s important to note that we are cash-only, with no ATMS on-site in an effort to keep costs low.


RAL: What will attendees find for local lodging options?

MP: There are quite a few bed and breakfast locations throughout Southern Alberta, and Airdrie offers many chain hotel establishments.


RAL: What does the Airdrie Festival of Lights mean to the community?

MP: In October of 1996, our founder and then City Alderman, Stan Softley, unveiled his vision to transform Nose Creek Park into a Christmas Light Display like no other. He is quoted as saying, “If you build it, they will come.”  Needing an initial investment from Community members of $70,000 for the overall $250,000 project, Stan and fellow festival organizers set in a motion an event designed to “put Airdrie on the map”. Stan believed that establishing a permanent Festival of Lights display would be a “boon to the city’s fortunes, both in terms of economics and community prestige”. He wanted the festival to become an annual tradition for everyone.


In 1996, when we began, our census listed the population at 15,946.  In 2015, it now sits at 58,690.  We truly believe we’ve created a culture for families in Airdrie, and thereby businesses to set up shop in our city.


RAL: Does the festival support any special causes?

MP: Part of our mandate has been to provide local organizations with an opportunity to raise funds through their volunteering at the festival. We estimate we’ve paid out over $300,000 through the years.


RAL: Why should people come to the Airdrie Festival of Lights?

MP: I think what makes us unique is that we offer so much variety to our guests, that they can create their own experience, within their own budget. And even in difficult economic times, we are the only event that everyone is still able to enjoy and offer to their families.

For more information about this festival please visit their website.