The Lights of Life celebration was the idea of university founder Sid Williams, who began the event as a gift to the community in 1989.
Every year, the school opens up its campus to thousands of people to see the arrangement of dozens of light sculptures scattered across the grounds.
Visitors can wind through the half-mile campus trail in their cars and see illuminated nativity scenes, a dragon, Santa Claus and candles — many of them over 20 feet tall. The decorative Santa’s sleigh, this year placed by the soccer field, is one of the tallest light displays in the Southeast at 65 feet tall, said event co-director Win Williams.
The entire show encompasses about 1 million individual light bulbs, which take five months each year to set up and then dismantle.
Who runs it?
Win and Robyn Williams of Duluth were visitors of the light show when it was still new to the school and volunteered to take it on eight years ago because they wanted to see the tradition carried on.
“I always had an interest in Christmas lights,” said Win Williams, who works for AT&T.
He calls the show “the best value Christmas show in the area,” as the ticket prices are low in comparison to other holiday activities, and just barely cover the school’s power bills for the month.
The recent shift from incandescent to LED lights, he said, should help save the school some money on its power bill.
All but a few of the displays are decked out with LED lights this year, which draw one-seventh of the power of traditional lights but are brighter.
At the beginning of September, the couple, an electrician and a crew of five began the set up for the light show, which officially opened on Thanksgiving.
From Thanksgiving to Dec. 31, the Williamses sleep in a camper trailer inside a warehouse on campus, where the light displays are kept during the rest of the year, because the couple often wraps up their work for the light show festivities late in the evening, they said.
The couple also run smaller, less extensive light shows in Chattanooga and Johns Creek, Robyn Williams said.
“It’s fun. Everybody’s in a good mood and happy,” she said.
Last year, 500,000 people were estimated to have seen the light show, distributed between at least 100,000 visiting cars, said university spokesman Craig Dekshenieks.
Visiting the school during the winter holidays is a tradition for many families, one that draws people from all over the region who make the trip to visit with Santa and see the change in the display year-to-year, said Win Williams. He said he has seen families come every year, bringing first their children, and then their grandchildren along.
The show is open every day from now until Dec. 31, and tickets range from $5 to $10, depending on the night.
Concessions are sold every night, but the petting zoo, Santa Claus visits, and train rides are only available on weekends, until the week of Christmas, when they will be available all week long, Williams said.
More information on the light show can be found at www.life.edu.
If you go:
WHAT: The 23rd annual Lights of Life exhibit at Life University
WHERE: 1269 Barclay Circle, Marietta
WHEN: Now through Dec. 31, evenings beginning at 6 p.m., Monday to Thursday, 6 to 10 p.m., Friday and Saturday, 6 to 10:30 p.m.
COST: $5 per car Monday to Thursday; $10 Friday, Saturday and Sunday
Separate fees for additional activities, including a petting zoo, photos with Santa and train rides, ranging from $3 to $12
Weekday tickets $10 during the week of Christmas, Dec. 23 to 27