By: Anastasia Penchi

Want a great way to get into the holiday spirit?

Drive your vehicle or walk through the 23nd annual Rotary Lights display in La Crosse’s Riverside Park any night between the day after Thanksgiving and New Year’s. Millions of LED lights are lit up in creative, moving displays. They are designed to appeal to our wonder. To our innocence. To the kid in all of us. It’s also a fundraiser to help feed the hungry, so you can’t go wrong by making this part of your family’s annual holiday tradition. If you decide to go, keep the following things in mind:

Please demonstrate patience in line

Nearly 300,000 visitors per year enjoy this holiday tradition. That means there may be lines to see Santa, and you may not be able to drive into the park immediately during peak times. Use this time as an opportunity to embrace patience and demonstrate it to others. Be gracious. This seems especially appropriate when you are near the live Nativity scene. It may be cliché, but remember the reason behind the season.

Yarn gone wrong

The Ugly Sweater 5K run/walk means you can clean out grandma’s closet and burn off those holiday calories in one fail schwoop. You do not need to purchase fancy celebrity work-out gear to participate in this 5K. In this contest, the uglier the sweater – the better. Do Christmas tree bulbs sewn to sweaters make people run faster? Or longer? I would need all the power an ugly sweater could provide if I were doing the running. Or even the walking. Glitter bombs and sparkly poms don’t fail me now.

The Rotary Lights Parade

​This annual evening kick-off parade is held the Friday after Thanksgiving, and is open to all participants who decorate with lights and line up. Parade watchers are welcome to light up, too. Crack those glow sticks, put them around your winter coat and mittens and check it out. Hot chocolate in a thermos might be good for the kids. A lawn chair and blanket are important accessories, too. Might as well be comfy.

Who pays that electric bill?

Since Rotary Lights is considered an “annual gift” from the area’s Rotary Clubs, numerous other non-profit groups and volunteer organizations, sponsors, and individuals, I’m guessing they pay the bill. Try to ignore the electricity being used and embrace the mission behind it as it benefits many non-profit groups and people every year. Let it bring out the kid in you as you guess the most recent display added. Which one is your favorite? Our family is partial to the fire breathing dragon. We also like the one throwing snowballs. And the scurrying squirrels. And anything Armed Forces. And riverboats. And lights that move to music. OK, they’re all good.

They feed the hungry

As participants leave, they are asked to make a voluntary perishable food or monetary donation to local food pantries. As a result, more than 3 million items of food have been provided to local food pantries to feed local people. It’s hard to argue against stats like that. And it’s sad to think there are people around us who don’t have enough to eat. Feel free to bring more than one item per person and help feed your neighbors. To learn more about Rotary Light, visit the website

Riverside Park

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