The Ghosts of Christmas Past, Present, and Future: Everything You Need to Know about Tucson’s Winterhaven

Though Tucson may not have the appearance of a snowy winter wonderland, there is still plenty of holiday spirit in the Old Pueblo. Each year, many residents of Tucson look forward to The Festival of Lights, which takes place in the centrally located community of Winterhaven. The neighborhood takes its name from its annual tradition of lighting up its beautiful tree-lined streets and homes and opening streets for visitors to walk through on chilly December evenings. If you have never attended Winterhaven’s Festival of Lights or you’ve always been curious about the roots of this cherished tradition, look at the essential facts about the festival below, including some helpful tips for when you go.

The Festival of Lights Begins

The Festival of Lights was the vision of CB Richards, who began to build a modern residential community in what was northern Tucson at the time—as the city has expanded around the neighborhood, its location has become more central in the city. By 1957, nearly all the original lots in what is now known as Winterhaven were developed. While developing each lot, Mr. Richards had planted Aleppo pine trees at regular intervals along the neighborhood streets, and he donated the first set of Christmas lights in 1949. This was the year of the first festival, which immediately garnered support from the community and became an annual event. Residents of Winterhaven were inspired to decorate their homes in lights, and over the years have taken the opportunity to create whimsical winter visions for visitors to enjoy.

The Tradition Continues

After 66 years, The Festival of Lights remains a fixture of the winter season in Tucson. It has been held consecutively since 1949 with the exception of one year in the 1970s during the energy crisis, when residents voted to go dark. Despite popular belief, residents are not required to participate in Winterhaven’s Festival of Lights. Many are glad to take part in the tradition, and they have designed elaborate creative visions that light up the streets. As you walk through the festival, you can see inspiration in light displays from many different cultural backgrounds and media influences. Everything from Christmas trees to Menorahs to Festivus Poles may be found on display, and many homes will feature signs explaining the themes or inspirations for their lighting designs.

Along with the hard work of the residents who decorate their homes in lights, it’s important to recognize the importance of community support for The Festival of Lights. Donations, food and drink purchases at the festival, and sponsorship from TEP all contribute to the organization and security of the festival, covering the costs of police, barricades, and more.

What to Know Before You Go:

The Festival of Lights will take place this year from December 9-26 every night from 6 p.m. to 10 p.m. Entrances are located on Ft. Lowell Rd., Country Club Rd., Prince Rd., and Tucson Blvd., and maps are available for guests to navigate their way through the neighborhood.

  • Festival admission is free. You might, however, want to bring along some cash to treat yourself to some hot chocolate or tasty snacks, which are sold at concession stands and local food trucks on site. It’s also recommended that guests donate canned foods, cereal, and other non-perishable, sealed foods for the Community Food Bank. Donation stations are located at every entrance, and they will accept both food and cash donations day and night.
  • There is no official parking area. There is one official Drive Thru night at Winterhaven for those who prefer to view the festival by car, but all other nights will require that you park and stroll through the neighborhood on foot. There are no official parking areas, though many nearby businesses and neighborhoods will allow people to park for free or for a small fee; just remember to respect neighborhood speed limits and posted parking restrictions.
  • The whole family is welcome. You can and should bring the whole family to the festival. Strollers are welcome, and well-behaved dogs can attend too—just keep them on a leash and watch pets closely in the crowds.
  • Lots of people will be there. As one of Tucson’s most cherished winter traditions, The Festival of Lights draws big crowds, especially on weekends, Christmas Eve, and Christmas Day. Be patient as you drive on the roads surrounding Winterhaven during the festival, and be prepared to walk through the winter wonderland surrounded by many other members of the community. You might also explore alternative ways to view the festival, such as a Winterhaven hayride, trolley limo, or party bike. Each of these experiences can be booked ahead of time through the appropriate ride company.

Here at Pennington Creative, we know there are many traditions that make our Tucson community unique, and we’re proud to be a part of the city’s vibrant culture. We’re also proud to support local business with exceptional content marketing services, including blogging, social media marketing, and graphic design.

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Marissa - Digital Marketing Manager, Account Services
Marissa Storrs

Digital Marketing Manager, Client Engagement

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