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Northwest Missouri holiday tradition celebrates 40th anniversary

Clareece Taylor doesn’t remember the first year she saw the Krug Park holiday light display because her parents have been taking her since she was born. 

“I do know my mom and dad talk about how when they were younger it was even prettier,” said Taylor, a high school student from St. Joseph, Mo. “The entrance used to be even more stunning.” 

This year marks the 40th anniversary of the Holiday Park drive-thru light display, which has been put on every year since 1981. 

While the event has always been popular, it’s even more so this year, as it adheres to COVID-19 safety guidelines. The only changes being made to the experience are the visits with Santa Claus and the donation process.

Buchanan County recently passed 5,991 confirmed cases of COVID-19 as of December 22. The county seat for Buchanan County is St. Joseph. 

“Santa will have to be addressed from the inside of a person’s vehicle from a proper distance,” said Chuck Kempf, the director of the St. Joseph Parks Department. “No direct contact this year.” 

The East Hills chapter of the Optimist Club has also stopped taking direct donations to fund the holiday display at the park this year. This means no Cherry Mashes, a chocolate candy filled with cherry buttercream, from St. Joseph’s own Chase Candy Company will be handed out by the organization. 

The display will see around 500,000 visitors during its five-week run according to Harold Stewart, the media director for Optimist Club. 

“At one time we kept a record of the states that came through the park by taking down the license car info and zip code info,” Stewart said. “If I recall it was all states and many other countries.” 

This will be the 20th year the East Hills chapter of the Optimist Club has been involved with the Krug Park holiday lights. 

The light display is a popular winter pastime for many citizens in Northwest Missouri. Megan Altschul, a resident of Plattsburg, Mo., said she has made many fond memories during the holidays when visiting the display. 

“I would go [to Holiday Park] with my friends a lot,” Altschul said.

Jessica Stallard shared her experience visiting this year, saying it hasn’t changed much since her first visit when she was 18 but is still just as memorable.

“I have only been twice, but I would say both times have been memorable,” said Stallard, a current student at Missouri Western State University in St. Joseph. “This time was memorable because I was with my best friends and it was just a spur-of-the-moment trip.” 

The lights for Holiday Park begin being checked and installed in early October according to the St. Joseph Parks Department and are completed the week of Thanksgiving before it is opened to the public the Friday night after Thanksgiving. The display will continue to be lit every night until January 3. 

If citizens want to commemorate the 40th anniversary of the iconic display, the St. Joseph Parks Department is selling ornaments made from retired light bulbs. The ornaments are hand-made by park employees and are being sold at their main office as well as a few local businesses. 

Donations can also be made to fund next year’s display in the form of checks addressed to the St. Joseph Parks Department at 1801 Grand Ave., St. Joseph, Mo. 64506.

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