By Michelle Sanford, Editor

Those who got a sneak preview of Southwick Zoo’s Festival of Illumination World of Lights, all seemed to agree — you’ve got to see it to believe it.

Southwick Zoo Festival of Illumination

The Southwick Zoo’s Festival of Illumination World of Lights will run through January 3.
(Jim Calarese photo)

“It really is beautiful, very unique,” said Upton resident Susanne Odell Farber. “I can only imagine what it’s like seeing it from a child’s eyes. It must be like going to Disney.”

The Festival of Illumination is slated to run through January 3 from 5:30 to 10 p.m., Wednesdays through Sundays.

Attendees stroll through the zoo which is illuminated with custom-built displays made of steel, silk, and LED lights. The World of Lights theme takes visitors to all seven continents to see such places like the Amazon Rainforest and the Great Reef of Australia.

The entire project actually began in late 2018 when the owners and CEO’s of the Zigong Lantern Group, Justin Corsa and his wife Meng Liu, reached out to Southwick’s owners to discuss a collaboration. The Zigong Lantern Group is an award-winning international company that specializes in one of kind event lighting displays.

For more than two years, Southwick’s staff and Zigong artists communicated about ideas and designs suitable for the zoo. “It was a long distance relationship for quite a while,” said Southwick’s Marketing and Special Projects Manager Belinda Mazur.

Mazur explained bringing the displays to fruition was certainly an education. At one point, zoo staff met with Corsa and his team in Nashville to see their work in progress. “We met them there to educate ourselves on what was to come,” she stated.

Southwick Zoo Festival of Illumination

The McElroy family from Bellingham stand before a beautiful illuminated display.
(Jim Calarese photo)

After a long delay due to Covid, it was finally time for the Zigong artists to travel from China to Mendon to hand build and install the displays. “It was amazing to watch it all take shape” said Southwick’s co-owner Betsey Brewer Bethel. “The electricians, the lighting specialists, the welders, the engineers—were all incredible. Their artistry is beyond words.”

Now that the displays are complete, Mazur said it’s time to sit back and watch visitors enjoy them. “What’s most rewarding is seeing the guests arrive and watching their reactions. They’re just blown away. For me, that’s the icing on the cake.”

The walk through portion of the Festival of Illuminations will end on November 24. Beginning November 26, it will be combined with the zoo’s popular Winter Wonderland and will be a drive through experience for visitors running through January 2. Tickets can be purchased online at SouthwicksZoo.com.