It’s the gift that keeps on giving — and growing.
The Pastega family Christmas light display, now in its third year at the Benton County Fairgrounds, will open for the season tonight and will continue from 5 to 10 p.m. nightly through Christmas.
A beloved holiday tradition, the free drive-through light display was created in 1981 by local Pepsi bottler and philanthropist Mario Pastega and relocated to the fairgrounds in 2013. It got a little bigger last year with the addition of some lighted yuletide figures from a display that neighbors Vera Asbahr and Carrie Schuoler put on for many years at their Peoria Road homes.
This year, many more of Schuoler and Asbahr’s lights have been integrated into the mix.
“We have a whole bunch of new stuff this year,” said Kathleen Hutchinson of the Rotary Club of Greater Corvallis, which works with the Mario & Alma Pastega Family Foundation to produce the annual light show. “The display is probably three times what it was before.”
With the addition of the Peoria Road elements, Hutchinson estimates there are something like 400 figures and 250 scenes in this year’s light display. In addition to armies of angels, squadrons of Santas and regiments of reindeer, there are painted wooden cutouts of storybook figures and cartoon characters as well as elaborately staged scenes from movies, the Bible and traditional tales. Some of the figures and scenes are mechanized, and all are ablaze in colorful electric lights.
Among this year’s additions are the title character from the children’s book “The Hungry Hungry Caterpillar” and a mob of Minions from the “Despicable Me” movie franchise.
To tour the light display, enter the fairgrounds parking lot from Southwest Reservoir Avenue and follow the signs. Motorists will drive east to west along the outside of the Livestock Pavilion, where they’ll pass illustrated verses from “The Twelve Days of Christmas” as the holiday song plays over an amplified sound system, then drive through the pavilion from west to east. From there the route winds its way through the fairgrounds to 53rd Street, where drivers will be able to exit going either north or south.
Toward the end, motorists will pass through a series of six lighted arches hung with figures from the Peoria Road display, and during the last two weeks of the show’s run there will be a live nativity scene.
More than 200 volunteers pitched in this year to help put the display together, Hutchinson said, including Rotarians, Girl Scouts and student groups from both Corvallis and Crescent Valley high schools. Sunrise Tree Farm, Starker Forests and Holiday Tree Farms donated Christmas trees, Consumers Power is providing free electricity and the county is making the fairgrounds available at a nominal rate. The Pastega Family Foundation pays for storage and maintenance of the light display.
“It’s a community event,” Hutchinson said. “Young and old, everybody’s helping out.”
And as soon as this year’s lights are packed away, organizers will begin thinking about next year’s show, which Hutchinson said will be even bigger.
“We’ll identify two or three different things that we’d like to add to the display and then put it out there for people who want to build them,” she said.