Danielle Sweeney says she was apprehensive in August when she learned that the Girl Scouts of Suffolk County’s 2016 Holiday Light Show would be moving from its longtime host site at Camp Edey in Bayport to Smith Point County Park in Shirley.
The popular 1.5-mile-drive-through holiday lights exhibit is a Long Island tradition.
It had been six years since Sweeney, who grew up in West Islip and now lives in Virginia Beach, last saw the holiday display. She planned to stop in this year while visiting family over the Thanksgiving holiday.
“I was just concerned with moving the location would lose the charming aspect of the light show,” Sweeney, 36, says.
But those concerns were put to rest at the show’s opening weekend.
“The Girl Scouts did not disappoint,” Sweeney says. “I was quite impressed with the length of the trail, the beautiful displays and to see the excitement and joy it brought to my daughter and nieces.”
The holiday light show debuted Dec. 1 and runs through Dec. 23.
ABOUT THE SHOW
While some of the sights have changed, the sounds are the same.
Now in its 13th year, the event features a soundtrack of holiday classics such as Bruce Springsteen’s take on “Santa Claus Is Comin’ to Town” and Nat King Cole’s treasured rendition of “The Christmas Song” courtesy of WBLI 106.1 FM and WBAB 102.3 FM.
Last year’s show attracted more than 12,000 people in its 10-day run.
“This year, we’re hoping to double that number since it’s twice as long,” says Christine Terzella, public relations director for the Girls Scouts of Suffolk County.
Another factor that Terzella hopes will affect turnout is accessibility, as the Suffolk County-based event will not be competing with the Jones Beach light show, which Live Nation decided against this year. The Holiday Lights Spectacular at Jones Beach was revived in 2014 after a seven-year absence. Last year it included a drive-through lights exhibit and a holiday village with an ice-skating rink.
Terzella was among a team of seven staff members who have typically spent 1 1⁄2 to 2 months building the light show in past years. The 2016 layout was reborn to accommodate a new landscape by the sea instead of in the woods and took just a week to build with help from volunteers from PSEG, International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers Local 1049 and the Long Island chapter of the National Electrical Contractors Association.
The show features 60 displays made from 400 decorative pieces and 800,000 lights. Among eight returning favorites from previous shows is a 3-D Empire State Building built to scale alongside a New York City skyline, Montauk Lighthouse, battleship, toy store and Girl Scout cookies-and-milk display. The most time- consuming — requiring a day to build — is an entrancing light-filled tunnel that was introduced this year.
“The kaleidoscope tunnel at the end of the show took a long time because each arch had to be assembled separately,” Terzella says. “Also, the 35-foot Christmas tree also took lots of manpower and time to assemble due to its size.”
Sweeney says the lighted tunnel resonated the most with her family.
The entire trail is about a 15- to 20-minute car ride, Terzella said. Visitors are allowed to take photos from their vehicles but are not permitted to stop along the trail or exit their vehicles.
The show opens at 5 every night and closes at either 9, 10 or 11 p.m.
On a busy night, 800 to 1,000 cars ride through its route. Each year, the Girl Scouts of Suffolk County start receiving calls in the summer on the status of the annual holiday light show, Terzella says, which she hopes speaks to its longevity on Long Island this season and going forward. The event is one of the biggest fundraisers for the Girl Scouts and the proceeds enable the group to send children in need to summer camp and to maintain Camp Edey and Camp Sobaco in Yaphank’s pine barrens.
“We hope that visitors get a sense of warmth and enjoyment,” Terzella says. “And we hope that if it is their first year, that they do want to make a tradition of it.”
As for Sweeney, she won’t let as many years pass before her next visit.
“It definitely was a wonderful experience and well worth the trip,” Sweeney says. “We look forward to making this a yearly tradition when visiting Long Island.”
Girl Scouts of Suffolk County’s Holiday Light Show
WHEN | WHERE 5 p.m. every night through Dec. 23 at Smith Point County Park, 1 William Floyd Pkwy., Shirley
COST $20/car ($40 RV/minibus, $70/school or coach bus)