Despite the Lions Festival of Light taking more than 1,000 hours to set up, the event is free and open to everyone.
Recently, volunteer Earl Hoefling was setting up the lights when a woman with a young child in tow came up to thank him.
“She had tears in her eyes,” says Hoefling. “She said, ‘This is a wonderful event and it’s free. It’s so marvellous you fellas would take time out of your day to do this for us.’”
Hoefling, the head electrician, says moments like this are why he and dozens of volunteers do this year after year, despite freezing temperatures and long hours.
Otto Silzer, the chair of the event since its creation 32 years ago, says he loves to provide a memorable holiday experience at zero cost, as giving everyone the opportunity to experience the holiday spirit is one of the core values of the festival.
“It will always be free,” says Silzer. “If it ever gets to a point where it can’t be free, then we won’t do it anymore.”
Dubbed the “largest free drive-by Christmas lights showcase in Calgary,” the event draws on volunteers who Silzer believes are the heart and soul of the event.
“They realize how special it is to bring smiles to children's faces.”
Hoefling adds the festival isn’t just special for families with young children, but is also meaningful to senior citizens and those with disabilities.
“There are people that struggle at Christmas time and that’s why I have been doing it all this time,” says Hoefling.
In addition to wanting to help those in need, Hoefling loves how his contribution makes him feel.
“I feel wonderful about contributing to this because of that community spirit and that sense of value that you provide to the community.”
Georgia Gardiner, another dedicated volunteer, says that the end result is about bringing community together.
”I think in this day and age we are too isolated,” says Gardiner. “We spend a lot of time at work and with family obligations. It means people rarely get to know their neighbours and their community.”
The Lions Festival of Lights runs from Dec. 1 until Jan. 8 in Confederation Park. Lights are turned on from 6 p.m. until midnight and can be viewed along 14th Street NW or by entering the park on foot along 24 Avenue.
- By Emily Dixon and Mackenzie Hermann