The light side of the holidays

‘There’s nothing like it around here’

By LESLIE MORIARTY

Herald Writer

MONROE — Renato Lubrin believes in lighting up the season.

So much so that he’s spent much of the past month stringing strands of lights on trees, bushes and buildings across 50 acres of the Evergreen State Fairgrounds.

And it’s all being done in the name of community spirit.

"It’s just a beautiful thing," Lubrin said of the Evergreen Light Festival. "There’s nothing like it around here."

Lubrin, now retired, worked as a maintenance person at the fairgrounds for 20 years. He knows every inch of the grounds and where every electrical connection is.

"All the time I was working here, when I was setting up for the fair and other events, I kept thinking about how this place would look so beautiful all lit up for the holidays," he said. "But there was never any time to do that.

"So after I retired, I told myself that I was just going to do it."

The first lights festival was in 1998 and included 1 million lights. Each year since then, the number of lights has increased.

"But we don’t really know how many we have now, because we stopped counting at a million," he said.

With a bit of volunteer help and a large crane, Lubrin began hanging the lights for this year’s event nearly a month ago. He said it takes about six weeks to get everything ready.

He has purchased all the lights himself and pays the electrical bill for the event. He is allowed to use the fairgrounds through an agreement with Snohomish County because the event is non-denominational and has no religious ties.

"This is really pretty unique," he said. "There are other light exhibits around. But none this big and none that are done as a celebration of winter and the holiday season in a way that welcomes everyone."

This year, Lubrin will add a 30-foot-long "Season’s Greetings" in lights to welcome visitors. Most every tree is decorated with lights, even those that are 50 to 60 feet tall.

"Once we get done, you can see the lights as far off as the Diamond M farms, west on Highway 2," he said. "In fact, I’ve seen some unfortunate accidents on the highway because drivers were rubbernecking to see the lights and rear-ended the cars in front of them."

While he doesn’t want that, he does want as many visitors as possible.

"The grounds are open to anyone, and you can walk around on your own, or you can be escorted," he said. "We have trolley rides and horse and buggy rides that leave from the tunnel entrances to the grounds."

Inside the grounds, there are choices of what to do, including viewing the lights, shopping at a crafts and gift show, listening to carolers, or visiting with Santa. Holiday goodies from soup to hot cider are served.

Admission fee proceeds from the event are given to local charities after the bills are paid. In past years, Lubrin has helped the local Boys &amp Girls Clubs, school PTAs, Scout troops and 4H clubs. School groups and seniors also are given special discounts.

Although Lubrin creates the light festival just to spread holiday cheer, he considers the season very special to him.

"I grew up on the (Philippines) islands," he said. "We were Catholic and Christmas was a very special time for us.

"All of my favorite holiday memories come back to mind when I see all the lights hung, and the smiles on the faces of those who are looking at them."

You can call Herald Writer Leslie Moriarty at 425-339-3436

or send e-mail to

moriarty@heraldnet.com.

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