The Niagara Falls Festival of Lights is a cherished memory to many who grew up in the Cataract City or near it. Those days are gone but tourism leaders are, for the second year, preparing a series of activities they say will provide a more interactive experience while showing visitors - especially those who may be returning for the first time in a while - how much has changed there.
Jingle Falls USA was formed in 2017 following the conclusion of the city's Festival of Lights, which had been moved to Hyde Park following a lengthy run in downtown Niagara Falls at venues including the former convention center and E. Dent Lackey Plaza, Wintergarden, and along Rainbow Boulevard, Third Street and Old Falls Streets.
"The infrastructure doesn't exist anymore. The volunteers that it took to run doesn't exist," explained Angela Berti of New York State Parks. "So, a bunch of us including State Parks, Destination Niagara USA, the (Niagara Falls) Culinary Institute and City of Niagara Falls have gotten together to create a new event called Jingle Falls."
It will begin Friday, November 30 at 5 p.m. with a candlelight stroll beginning at City Hall and proceeding to Old Falls Street, where at 5:45 p.m. there will be a ceremonial tree lighting, followed by fireworks.
There will also be a celebration of local pizza, known as Festival of Slice, at the Culinary Institute from 5 p.m. until 8 p.m. Then, for the next three Saturdays beginning December 1, there will be numerous indoor and outdoor activities in the city's tourist district and in Niagara Falls State Park.
"We have a plethora of activities for everyone to enjoy," said Susan Swiatkowski of Destination Niagara USA. "From meeting with Santa and ice skating outside, which is coming downtown for the first time in many years, we have free carriage rides up and down Old Falls Street. We have the student-made Gingerbread Wonderland inside the culinary institute, which always adds a bunch of activities including meeting Santa inside."
Niagara Falls State Park will host additional activities, most of which will be held on Goat Island.
"We're doing hikes and walks. We're having meet-and-greets with Siberian Huskies," Berti said.
Although tourism planners recognize the nostaliga of the old Festival of Lights, they say what Jingle Falls USA offers are interactive experiences that weren't available in the events of yesteryear. That, Swiatkowski suggests, is especially important for engaging younger visitors today, including children.
"You have to be smarter. You have to program smarter," she said. "You have to be more interactive with them. They're so used to being in a computerized world, that if it's not something they can actually hold and touch and do and feel accomplished by doing, they feel they're having more fun on their computer games at home."
Some of the hands-on activities include cookie-making, s'mores and, yes, the return of outdoor ice skating. Swiatkowski says an outdoor rink, weather permitting, will be set up on the municipal parking lot at the intersection of Rainbow Boulevard and First Street.