The Bucciferro family McDonald’s display on Sunday, Dec. 24, 2023, at Festival of Lights in Sinnissippi Park in Rockford. (Photo by Kevin Haas/Rock River Current)
    By Kevin Haas
    Rock River Current
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    ROCKFORD — The annual Festival of Lights drive-thru display set a new record for attendance this season with more than 42,000 cars passing through Sinnissippi Park.

    This year’s display drew an estimated 126,894 people, topping the record set in 2021 of 105,453. It’s the fourth consecutive year with more than 100,000 visitors.

    “People are starting to realize that Rockford is a great place to get your holiday momentum going,” said Ted O’Donnell, co-chairperson of the all-volunteer committee that puts on the display. “It’s great to see so many people are coming into Rockford to start their holiday celebrations.”

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    The display is put up each year by the nonprofit Rockford 4th of July Civic Committee, a small group of volunteers who also coordinate the annual fireworks display on the Fourth of July. Both events are funded entirely by donations.

    Volunteers track each car moving through the display, and use a national standard estimate of three people per car to reach their final attendance number. That three-person-per-vehicle standard applies even when they see buses from retirement homes or schools move through the lighting display.

    This year there were 42,298 vehicles counted.

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    O’Donnell said this year volunteers saw a lot of license plates coming from places like Indiana and Wisconsin during the weekends. He said the record attendance is in-part because of the addition of more days the display was open, but he also said it’s because Rockford is becoming a destination for holiday cheer.

    “People are really looking for things to make them happy, and Rockford has several wonderful lighting displays,” he said. “So families from not just our community, but families from outside our community, can come in and experience the conservatory, Anderson Gardens, us as a drive-thru there are so many ways to get in the holiday mood with different events going on in Rockford.”

    Festival of Lights attendance

    2023: 126,894

    2022: 105,150

    2021: 105,453

    2020: 103,560

    2019: 84,840

    2018: 52,758

    Source: Festival of Lights / Rockford 4th of July Civic Committee

    How to help

    You can help keep the display running by donating to the Festival of Lights online at

    This article is by Kevin Haas. Email him at or follow him on X at @KevinMHaas or Instagram @thekevinhaas and Threads @thekevinhaas

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