My small hometowns of Newburgh and Evansville, IN enjoy their traditions; not for the sake of sanctity, but for the nostalgia certain customs bring. Thanksgiving is such a grand holiday in Southern Indiana as it’s the official day to begin a month-long celebration of family and friends.
For twenty years, Thanksgiving has been kicking off a gem of an event called Fantasy of Lights, a fundraiser for the Easter Seals Rehabilitation Center. The Fantasy of Lights is a winter light show with sixty embellished scenes, some animated, some rising twenty feet high, all amazing to gaze upon. Families can splurge a little and grab a horse-drawn carriage, cover themselves with a blanket, and sip their hot cocoa while being chauffeured through a sparkling wonderland of lights and music.
Ritzy’s Fantasy of Lights is a hidden treasure for residents in Southern Indiana. It’s an event that started small for a good cause, and has grown every year, still for the same, good cause. Usually when something as popular as Fantasy of Lights goes for so long, it is forced to meld into something for the masses. But not this light spectacular. Take a stroll through the park, with the music playing, and the crisp air on your face, and the show is how it always has been: reminding you all you’re thankful for, and the exciting days ahead.
To do a complete opposite – for something loud, rambunctious, and off-the-wall nutty, the Hadi Shrine Circus opens on Thanksgiving Day with trapeze dancers, elephant rides, fire breathers, and anything one could wish for in a celebration of fun. Newburgh and Evansville families flock to the Ford Center before their meals to grab circus peanuts, get their faces painted, and watch in awe at the performers flying across the rings.
A tradition for eighty years, the Shriners have been delighting children and adults in Southern Indiana with their show, and helping hospitalized children in need, which is why so many go back year after year. Most adults know the motorcycles go round and round in the cage without problem, and the heavy whiff of elephant as you enter the theater is as expected as a sunrise, but it’s the electricity everyone goes back for. The thrill of sharing a great day with your neighbors before going home and giving thanks for everything you’ve been blessed with.
I’m sure the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade plays in the background on the television in many homes throughout Newburgh and Evansville, but it’s our own special events, our festival of lights and celebration of fun, that makes the Thanksgivings of Southern Indiana residents something special.