Trees hung with Christmas lights in various colors, shown at night

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Garrison Petawawa Festival of Lights for military families

By Patricia Leboeuf

Posted on Wednesday November 25, 2020

Military families are invited to discover the seasonal splendour of the Garrison Petawawa Festival of Lights from Nov. 30 to Dec. 3.

Over a kilometre of road has been beautifully decorated by about 15 units on the Garrison, transforming the scenery into a dazzling spectacle of colour. Safe in their vehicles, visiting families will be able to drive down this path on Sapper Way before receiving a socially distant gift from Santa Claus himself.

Families must go through their loved one's Chain of Command to reserve a time slot, as the separate units are playing host on different days throughout the upcoming week.

The Festival of Lights came about to spread some Christmas joy among local Canadian Armed Forces members and their families as everything holiday-themed has been cancelled. Traditionally during the festive season, in addition to military Christmas dinners and formal balls, each unit hosts a kids' party where children can come into unit buildings, enjoy games and activities, and visit with Santa.

2 Combat Engineer Regiment (2 CER) originally came up with the idea of a drive-through event, and were planning on decorating just their own compound and trucks. They soon realized, however, that other units wanted to participate.

"Everybody came on board, and we came up with a plan to decorate a road nearby," said Major (Maj) Jeff Day, 2 CER Deputy Commanding Officer.

Together, the project grew until it became something greater than imagined, something that would spark joy while keeping families and personnel safe.

This festive event will allow families to see where their loved one works from a distance, all while they enjoy an impressive array of bright lights.

The soldiers setting up the displays have been in good spirits, happy to bring a bit of cheer to an otherwise dreary year.

"Everybody has been super positive and enthusiastic," said Maj Day. "The military has a tradition of getting the families involved at certain events when possible, so it's so important to be able to maintain a piece of who we are while staying safe.”

Maj Day admitted it may be disappointing to non-military families who are not currently allowed to enter the base to enjoy the event. The COVID-19 regulations at the federal level bar people from going onto the Garrison unless they work there.

"We would have loved to open it up to the public, especially the Petawawa community that supports us so much,” noted Maj Day. “But the base is closed. We had to get special approval to even do this."

He does hope that they will be able to do this festival next year for everyone.

For the community at large, there is a public Christmas light event they can take part in: the first Light Up the Valley.

Residents and businesses in Petawawa, Pembroke, Laurentian Valley, and Whitewater Region are encouraged to decorate as much as they can before Nov. 30 so that people can explore their neighbourhoods and enjoy cheerful displays from Dec. 1 to 31.

There are no official prizes, but the hope is that the bright lights will bring some holiday spirit to the area.

Those who want to take part can sign up at Light Up the Valley