LaBelle Lights: Half a million bright spots of holiday fun
LaBelle Lights in Derry has plugged into its second holiday season in a big way, with a wonderland of more than 500,000 twinkling lights.
“It’s crazy,” said a laughing Amy LaBelle, who with husband Cesar Arboleda runs LaBelle Winery. “It makes last year’s event look like a residential display.”
The inaugural event last year was a bit of an experiment. People were starting to venture back into social gatherings, but the pandemic still had some folks wary of indoor events. So, LaBelle contracted an outside company to craft a “healthy little outdoor winter walk with some wonder.”
About 20,000 people came through the multi-week attraction, set atop a section of the LaBelle Links at LaBelle Winery on Route 111, and it lit an even bigger spark. As soon as the holidays wrapped up, the winery launched a quarter-million-dollar project to revamp and expand the spectacle.
The winery took over aspects of the production, from purchasing a new light display system to doing prep work to accommodate a larger footprint on the golf course, including cutting down trees and stringing up cables that could suspend features overhead.
The result in the second year of LaBelle Lights is a nostalgic tug on the heartstrings, from the cool blast of peppermint in cups of cocoa to the Christmas carols wafting through the chatter of grownup conversations and children’s squeals of excitement.
It takes 15 to 25 minutes to meander through the route, especially since holiday cheer has a way of putting people in the moment and slowing time.
“It’s such an important time to celebrate with family and loved ones — to pause and make some great memories,” LaBelle said.
All the trimmings
LaBelle Lights is open from 4:30 to 9 p.m. Wednesdays through Sundays through Jan. 15, along the groomed pathways of the golf course. This year, LaBelle hopes to attract 50,000 visitors.
Will LaSala, who helps map out self-guided holiday light tours for fans of holiday displays on the Facebook page Christmas Lights in Southern NH, says he went to LaBelle last year and is planning a return trip this year.
“The hike across the beautiful golf range in the moonlight was amazing. They had multiple archways that were completely lit up with thousands of lights. And (there were) many stops for the all important social media posts. …. (Afterwards) we then went over to the winery for a quick bite to eat and a couple glasses of wine.”
The entrance to the reconfigured attraction is right off the back parking lot. Look for some white lights strung on the walkway to the side of a “LaBelle Lights” banner. Then head through the largest of three oversized red Christmas ornaments topped with those familiar gold caps and tree-trimming loops.
You’re almost there when you spy a spiky, white snowflake embedded in the ground as if hurled from some far-off galaxy. (It’s called the “Megaflake.”)
A new building that has the loft and cozy feel of a barn is home to the tasting room.
“This is where people can get hot chocolate, and can add a dash of alcohol to make the night warmer,” says Michele Thornton, LaBelle’s marketing and business development director.
Step out the door of the barn and take in a vista of lights that peak and dip across the landscape like a neon treeline. Check out the large-scale map of the route before setting out.
It’s not a long trail, but visitors can go around the course as many times as they’d like. After the first lap, try reversing direction. Perspectives change and you’ll most likely see some features you missed in the first lap. I noticed small Grinch-green lights here and there on tree tops that gave the illusion of some unusual stars in the sky.
There are many spots to snap selfies, including an illuminated version of a Teddy bear — this one is called Eddy Bear, who manages to seem towering (he’s 10 feet tall) and cuddly at the same time.
“He is adorable. The kids just love it,” says social media manager Layna Holk.
A do-it-yourself project
LaBelle’s in-house design team spent the past year developing their Christmas lighting expertise.
Some of the lighted structures came from overseas and had to be uncrated, stored, assembled and installed on the grounds. Others were made in-house and fitted right to the property.
And then there were the logistics — figuring out how to get various ornaments in just the right place and position, from a big glass-like ornament delicately resting on its side to a nearly 40-foot Christmas tree stretching straight up into the night.
“It was a very windy day when the professional crane operator was on site to stand up the huge Christmas tree. There tends to be a little vortex of wind in some areas of the golf course, and it was something to see that being put together,” Thornton says.
Other new additions are a Candy Cane Lane, a bridge that puts guests in the midst of a giant, glittering chandelier, a garden of hand-forged steel flowers crafted by in-house artists Josh Boisvert and Troy Garner, and a 60-foot tunnel of lights that blinks on and off in waves of colors and patterns.
The crowds here are a mix of families and friends groups of all ages, with accessible paths for strollers and wheelchairs.
“We had some engagements happen here too last year,” Thornton says.
Visitors get a chance to add their own holiday spirit during four themed nights: Ugly Holiday Sweaters on Dec. 9; Crazy Christmas Hats on Dec. 12; Christmas Pajamas Night on Dec. 16; and Best Santa Costume Night on Dec. 23.
Tickets to LaBelle Lights are $10 for seniors; $16 for ages 13 to 64; $8 for ages 4 to 12, and free for children 3 and under. Info: www.labellewinery.com/lights.