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Light it up 

A look at some of Rochester's most impressive holiday light displays

The Greater Rochester area was once home to a number of professionally created light displays, such as the ones put on at Sonnenberg Gardens in Canandaigua and Northampton Park in Brockport. But not everyone is eager to invest hundreds of dollars into teeny lights, or to spend weekends and free evenings setting up displays, or to program costly computer systems to synchronize music. Not to mention dealing with agitated neighbors who have no way of escaping a lawn lit up like Times Square. But there is good news for those who enjoy observing the twinkle and shine of decorations during brisk winter nights: holiday light displays still exist, and some people take them very seriously.

Many neighborhoods, towns, and individuals work hard to put together their own light displays every year. As an added bonus, all of these modern displays are free to the public — although a few request that visitors bring a donation such as non-perishable foods or a toy. It's not a bad compromise, since many now-extinct public light displays charged admission.

click to enlarge Lights are already going up on Colony Lane in Henrietta, although the full neighborhood-wide display is set to go live on Thanksgiving. - PHOTO BY MATT DETURCK
  • Lights are already going up on Colony Lane in Henrietta, although the full neighborhood-wide display is set to go live on Thanksgiving.

For starters, check out the Colony Lane Circle of Lights (Colony Lane, off Calkins Road), located in Henrietta. This cul-de-sac consists of seven families that, under the direction of Rob Flynn, put on huge displays and weekly events throughout the holiday season. The families light up the neighborhood trees and each family decorates its own home. On weekends visitors can come meet Santa Claus, Mrs. Claus, Santa's elves, The Grinch, Cindy Lou Who, and even Elmo (a new addition this year). Flynn takes family photos for visitors and posts them on the Colony Lane Circle of Lights website (, where families can download and share their own photos for free.

"Last year was our biggest year ever," Flynn says regarding attendance. "We actually beat the last three years put together, which has driven me to invest about $2000 in electronics to give a wild and crazy computerized show." The lights will be up and running from 5 p.m. to 10 p.m. every night starting after Thanksgiving.

The city of Canandaigua also puts on an annual lights event called Light Up Canandaigua. On Thursday, December 6, visitors can take bus tours to see all of the light displays and enjoy cookies, coffee, and hot chocolate all provided for free by the Canandaigua Chamber of Commerce — as long as a non-perishable food item or unwrapped toy is donated in exchange. Light Up Canandaigua is also a competition, in which local families and businesses try to win cash prizes for having the best holiday light displays. Elisha Snow, who manages the event, says that about 15 homes and businesses take part each year.

"We do it to bring the community together during the holidays, and to be vibrant," Snow says. Most displays consist of traditional lights that cover the buildings and lawns, but some also have blow-up decorations or other holiday items. The winners generally go all out with lights covering their entire property. "The ones people really like are the lights all over the yard," Snow says. Last year's winners were the Canandaigua Federal Credit Union and a family located on Risser Road.

If you want to bring the family out to see the lights via the bus tour on December 6, you must make a reservation for either 6 p.m. or 7:30 p.m. by calling 394-4400. If you can't make the bus, you can still enjoy Light Up Canandaigua by picking up a map at the Chamber of Commerce (113 S. Main St., Canandaigua) or by downloading it from the website ( The lights stay up until January 1.

click to enlarge The entire neighborhood of Colony Lane, a cul-de-sac in Henrietta, gets involved with a massive holiday light display. - PHOTO BY MATT DETURCK
  • The entire neighborhood of Colony Lane, a cul-de-sac in Henrietta, gets involved with a massive holiday light display.

If you're looking for more new-age computerized displays, there are families that go rogue and do their own single-home shows. Located at 15 Academy Drive in Henrietta is one such computerized display set to music, which you can tune in by setting your radio to 91.1 FM. Between 5 p.m. and 10 p.m. each night from mid-November until January 1, you can park in front of the house and watch the show. According to owner Tom Tirone's website (, he has more than 16,000 lights in his display and starts checking for non-functioning lights and begins the heavy-duty installations in September and October to get ready for the season.

Wright's Bright Lights, a single-home show in Irondequoit put on by the Wright family and located at 195 Auramar Drive, is another spot to check out; it includes more than 25,000 lights programmed to flash to music. The show is set to go live on November 22 and runs 5-10 p.m. Sundays through Thursdays, and until 11 p.m. on Fridays and Saturdays. Set your car's radio to 106.5 FM to hear the music that goes with it, and visit for more information.

If you want to take a short driving trip around Rochester to see some other areas that typically have whole neighborhoods lit up, you can also check out Fourth Avenue in Fairport (tune to 91.1 FM for one home that has a smaller music-synched display), Stonebridge Lane in Pittsford, Forest Hills in East Rochester (across from Wegmans), and Rathaway Road/Dawson Street/Winter Hazel Court in Gates (off Lyell Road).

Those are just some of the many light displays that you can find around these parts. Do you have a favorite? Or put on a stunning light display yourself? Let us know about it by leaving a comment on this article, below.

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