By Kim Jansen
News Report Staff
When the Effingham Tourism Department decided to purchase a large walk-thru ornament last year and place it on the lawn of the historic Effingham court house, Tourism Director Jodi Thoele had hoped for a good response.
But, she had no idea that the large ornament would be the buzz of the community, as selfie-style photos of residents with the ornament flooded social media.
“We were surprised and delighted by the response,” said Thoele. “We hoped that the community would enjoy it, but we never imagined the huge response. We were thrilled.”
As a result of the popularity of the ornament, the Tourism Department has purchased two additional light features to join the ornament — The Royal Gift, a large walk-thru present; and The Star, a walk-through tunnel star.
“Both are large displays, like the ornament, and we are excited to put these beautiful displays up just in time for Hometown Christmas,” said Thoele. “It is so wonderful to be able to add these displays for families to enjoy during the holiday season.”
Although the walk-thru lights are sure to be a hit, Thoele said the department’s large drive-thru display also is must see.
Wonderland In Lights, which is located at Community Park, features a variety of Christmas lights, including reindeer flight school, Santa coming down the chimney, a Nativity scene and a Gingerbread house.
“It’s a free and fun holiday experience that the entire family can enjoy together,” said Thoele. “I love to hear that families make the Wonderland in Lights part of their holiday traditions. It’s something they can hopefully pass down for generations to come.”
The Wonderland In Lights display does not have any new additions this year, but Thoele is hoping to add some new pieces in the future.
“We are officially out of room, so we decided to use the funds to get the two new displays downtown,” said Thoele. “We do plan to start replacing some older displays at Wonderland in Lights next season.”
The drive-thru light display is open Thanksgiving Day until New Year’s Day, with hours from 5 to 9 p.m. Sunday to Thursday and 5 p.m. to 10 p.m. on Friday and Saturday. Also, Santa visits every Saturday to hand out special treats to the boys and girls.
As part of the holiday fun, the Tourism Office also will be hosting a social media contest again this year, where people are asked to post their photos with any of the light displays at #ChristmasinEffingham. Participants will be entered into a contest to win a family-friendly gift basket.
“We had a great response with that and plan to run a similar contest this year,” said Thoele, who added residents will have until Dec. 18 to submit photos online.
In other holiday business, the Tourism Department will hold its 4th annual Holiday Lights & Festive Sights contest, where residences and businesses can be nominated to win prizes for their outdoor holiday decorations.
“I think the contest is a great way to help spread holiday cheer in the city,” said Thoele. “It’s also a good way to get to know your neighbors and promote a sense of community, especially around the holiday season.”
The contest features four categories — Business, Classic Christmas, Clark Griswold and Reason for the Season. Nominees must be in the city limits of Effingham to participate, but anyone can vote.
Winners will still receive $250, plus a sign to go in their yard. The business winner will pick a favorite charity to donate the money.
“The competition also gets people out and about in the city. If they are driving around looking at Christmas lights, they may decide to spend more time in Effingham and check out everything we have to offer,” said Thoele. “Hopefully, we’ll get people from neighboring communities into Effingham to look at the lights and experience Effingham during the holiday season.”
Nominations for residences and businesses must be in by noon on Monday, Dec. 4, and can be made by calling the Effingham Visitor Center at 217-342- 5310.
After all nominations are made, official judges will narrow the nominees down to the top three in each category. The top three will then be voted on by the public.
Nominees can be voted for online at the Visit Effingham Facebook page, at www.VisitEffinghamIL.com, or in person at the Effingham Visitor Center at 1505 Hampton Drive. Voting will be open Friday, Dec. 8 to noon on Friday, Dec. 15. Winners will be announced on Dec. 15.
“I think it’s just a fun contest for families to participate in. They’ll help light up the City of Effingham and help spread holiday cheer,” said Thoele. “I also think it’s a great way to get the family into the Christmas spirit.”
To learn more about the Tourism Department’s holiday activities, contact the Tourism Department at 217-342-5310 or visit www.VisitEffinghamIL.com.