Carolyn Cross repairs light strands on a flower-shaped light frame at Warm Beach Camp and Conference Center. (Olivia Vanni / The Herald)

Carolyn Cross repairs light strands on a flower-shaped light frame at Warm Beach Camp and Conference Center. (Olivia Vanni / The Herald)

All is merry and bright at Warm Beach

The Lights of Christmas endures as one of Snohomish County’s premier holiday traditions.

For Bill and Marguerite Blue, the holiday season wouldn’t be the same without the Lights of Christmas.

Since its inception 24 years ago, the Everett couple have volunteered for the beloved Snohomish County Christmas event as carolers, greeters and Santa’s helpers.

“We have so many good memories of those early days when they were just learning how to do it,” said Marguerite Blue, 79. “It was the highlight of our Christmases up through 2019.”

Warm Beach Camp and Conference Center’s annual display of more than 1 million lights draws thousands of visitors each holiday season. Volunteers like the Blues help set up the display, which is open for visitors from late November to early January.

But the 2020 Lights of Christmas was scaled back because of the COVID-19 pandemic. Staff retooled the walk-thru tour into a drive-thru, and created an online registration system. Those changes continue this year.

“A Drive-Thru Christmas” is set for 5 to 10 p.m. Nov. 26-28, Dec. 1-5, 8-12, 15-23, 26-30, and Jan. 2-8 at the camp, 20800 Marine Drive, Stanwood. Tickets are $25-$55. Registration is required; buy your tickets at thelightsofchristmas.com.

Each ticket is for a single vehicle, with pricing for cars, motorcycles, limos and minibuses. With standard vehicles, the cost is the same for up to 12 passengers, so there’s no need to hide a couple of friends in the trunk. But motorhomes and other RVs are not allowed.

On the 30-minute drive-thru tour, you’ll see more than 1 million lights and upwards of 50 Christmas displays. Santa, Mrs. Claus, Frosty and Rudolph will be on hand — although Santa and Rudolph will head back to the North Pole after Dec. 23.

As you take in the displays, you can tune to KTAH-FM at 101.9 on the dial to hear Christmas music and banter from Bruce the Spruce, the camp’s host and mascot.

A Lights of Christmas app is in the works for Apple and Android phones. It will include a reading of the Christmas story, a virtual advent calendar and Bruce the Spruce jokes.

Kids can send letters to Santa via the app or drop them off in Santa’s mailbox at the event. Download a template letter on the event website.

Kettle corn, coffee, hot chocolate and mini doughnuts are available for purchase. The doughnuts are especially popular — some 23,000 bags of them were sold in 2020. You can bring your own snacks if you like.

Visitors must remain in their vehicles throughout the tour, except at a parking area for the restroom. At the end, they can park to take a selfie at the photo station or visit a gift shop offering merchandise such as a commemorative Bruce the Spruce ornament that reads, “I came for the donuts.”

Lights of Christmas director Kayla Castiglione said the drive-thru tour retains the twinkling holiday magic of the walk-thru tours.

“It still has the joyfulness,” she said.

All those lights add up to a seasonal electricity bill of about $30,000, Castiglione said.

The heart of the tour is a nativity scene. The staff doubled its size in 2020, so that it is a total of four scenes, including the Three Wise Men, Mary and Joseph on their way to Bethlehem, and shepherds watching their flock near the manger. Behind it, a large star will be suspended from atop the Cedar Lodge’s steeple rooftop, with light strands leading down to the lawn and toward the nativity scene.

“One of my favorites is the expanded nativity scene,” Castiglione said. “It’s the center of who we are.”

You’ll see several new displays this year. In addition to the nativity scene, there’s the icicle falls, which is a waterfall made of lights that cars will drive under; a wintry scene featuring the Cascade Range; a 12-foot wandering star and a display of presents that spell out B-E-L-I-E-V-E, each of the boxes topped with a Christmas tree.

Lights of Christmas visitors are welcome to add their own seasonal touches. Castiglione would like to see the tour turn into a sort of parade.

“I encourage people to dress up, decorate their car,” she said. “It adds excitement for them, but also for our staff.”

This is Castiglione’s first year in charge of the operation. She grew up in nearby Lakewood and attended the event as a child. She later volunteered at the camp and light show, and joined the staff six years ago.

“It’s just so much fun,” she said. “I just really want people to come and feel the joy of Christmas, just like Christmas morning.”

The Christmastime event was founded in 1997 as a way for Warm Beach Camp and Conference Center to serve Snohomish County between Thanksgiving to New Year’s Day — the quietest time of year. It was modeled after Nashville’s Opryland theme park’s “Christmas in the Park.”

With the scaled-back drive-thru display, only 45 volunteers are needed to stage The Lights of Christmas. When it was a walking tour, about 225 camp staff and volunteers were needed.

Volunteering at The Lights of Christmas has become a Blue family tradition. Although Bill and Marguerite were unable to volunteer last year because of health concerns, the couple enjoyed the 2020 show as spectators.

“As you drove with your car and had your windows down, if it wasn’t raining, you could hear people all along the line of cars exclaiming — kids just having a great time,” Marguerite Blue said.

If you go

The Lights of Christmas presents “A Drive-Thru Christmas,” 5 to 10 p.m. Nov. 26-28, Dec. 1-5, 8-12, 15-23, 26-30, and Jan. 2-8, at Warm Beach Camp and Conference Center, 20800 Marine Drive, Stanwood.

Drive through a winter wonderland featuring more than 1 million lights and upwards of 50 Christmas displays. Wave to Santa, Mrs. Claus, Frosty and Rudolph. Mini doughnuts, kettle corn, coffee, hot chocolate and merchandise available for purchase.

Tune in to 101.9 FM and enjoy Christmas music along with radio host Bruce the Spruce.

Tickets are $25-$55. Car and motorcycle price is $25 Sunday through Thursday, $30 Friday, Saturday and Christmas week. Limo and minibus price is $50 Sunday through Thursday, $55 Friday through Saturday and Christmas week. Reservations are required and can only be booked online. Arrive anytime within the hour window selected at purchase — but if you select 9 p.m., show up no later than 9:45 p.m.

Call 360-652-7575 or visit thelightsofchristmas.com for more information.

Washington North Coast Magazine

This article is featured in the winter issue of Washington North Coast Magazine, a supplement of The Daily Herald. Explore Snohomish and Island counties with each quarterly magazine. Each issue is $3.99. Subscribe to receive all four editions for $14 per year. Call 425-339-3200 or go to www.washingtonnorthcoast.com for more information.

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