Riverside Church hosts ‘River Lights of Wonder’ display for second year
THREE RIVERS — Riverside Church will be lighting up the St. Joseph River and River Drive again this Christmas season, bringing back a special Christmas-themed light display for a second year.
Opened on Saturday, Nov. 30, River Lights of Wonder is a free community light display experience featuring a drive through the Riverside property starting on River Drive, re-telling the Christmas story through lights and narration.
“It is a free gift to the community, a Christmas experience where we light up the St. Joseph River and have narration at each site of the Christmas story, starting with Joseph and Mary, then the wise men and the shepherds,” Riverside Church Pastor Paul Booko said. “As they wrap around the property, they also end up at the top with the big silhouette of Joseph and Mary.”
Along with the display, there is also a children’s area with a light maze, a “lollipop train,” food truck vendors, campfires, and free hot chocolate and cookies.
The event runs Thursdays through Sundays until Christmas Eve from 5:30 to 9:30 p.m. The remaining dates of operation are Dec. 5-8, Dec. 12-15 and Dec. 19-24. There is a special “Family Day” on Saturday, Dec. 7 from 3-7 p.m., which will include Christmas cookie decorating, arts and crafts and photo booths.
Bonnie Booko, Paul’s wife, was the “visionary” for the project, which took “around-the-clock” help from over 200 volunteers over the last two months to get the display ready.
“We doubled what we had last year on the river, and that was a lot of volunteers, a lot of people who donated towards it, because we wanted the event to be free for people,” Bonnie said, adding that the play area with the maze and train was expanded from last year’s event.
Last year, almost 6,000 people came from all over the state to visit the display, which Paul said is a “must-see” event in southwest Michigan.
“A lot of people have come from Grand Rapids, Holland, all around southwest Michigan,” Paul said. “For only our second year, we’re getting good publicity.”
Bonnie said the inspiration for doing the display was based on the experiences she had as a child with her father going to see Christmas lights.
“Our family was going through a hard time, and my dad didn’t have a job, so we didn’t have a lot of money. He was very creative, and we got in the car, and said we’re going on a treasure hunt,” Bonnie said. “I don’t remember presents growing up, but I remember experiences. So, we went on that treasure hunt looking for Christmas lights.”
Bonnie said she wants to make River Lights of Wonder that kind of experience for families in Three Rivers and the surrounding area, and said River Lights of Wonder is “worth the trip.”
“We want to come alongside families to help them have experiences together as a family,” Bonnie said. “You come, you drive through it, you get out of your car, and you enjoy your family together.”