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Fairgrounds light up holiday

Marching toy soldiers made of lights captivated a 5-year-old boy as he his family took a mile-long ride Sunday on a path surrounded by one million shimmering bulbs.

Christopher Piotrowski, of Lackawanna, had never seen so many lights in one place. Strings of bulbs formed waving Santas, blinking arches, a 40-foot-high toy factory -- even a partridge in a pear tree.

Fittingly, the creations come from an Albany-based company called North Pole Productions, which has turned a parking lot at the Erie County Fairgrounds in the Town of Hamburg into the first Holiday Lights Festival.

John Bellamy, of Buffalo, is a light show aficionado, and he is convinced the event fills a holiday void. He used to attend the Lights in the Park display that was staged in Delaware Park until 2002.

Low attendance, declining revenue and weather woes prompted organizers to pull the plug on the event, ending a four-year run. Bellamy also fondly recalls the Festival of Lights, which illuminated Niagara Falls.

"It's good to find a place that still has this kind of thing," said Bellamy.

One Williamsville family was attending its second light display in two weeks. Jose and Evelyn Pizarro treated their grandchildren to a horse-drawn carriage ride through the festival grounds.

A week earlier, they visited Holiday Lights of Niagara, which features 50 illuminated displays. Presented by United Way of Wheatfield, the event is being held in Oppenheim Park on Niagara Falls Boulevard.

"These events really get you into a festive mood," said Evelyn Pizarro, as she watched her 7-year-old grandson frolic with a costumed snowman Sunday. Planning for the event began last spring, said North Pole Productions President Tammy Peters.

Attendance has been increasing each week since the Nov. 23 opening. About 2,000 people showed up Saturday night for events that included a magic show, caroling and dogsled demonstrations.

In addition to the light displays, which are open Wednesday through Sunday through Jan. 1, North Pole Park is open on Friday, Saturday and Sunday nights. The village includes 17 boutiques and refreshment stands.

The Fairgrounds Expo Hall has been turned into a holiday wonderland filled with dozens of decorated trees. Admission to the grounds is $12 per vehicle.

There was a long line Sunday outside one tiny building in North Pole Park.

Anxious children, some clutching cups of hot chocolate, waited patiently to see Santa. Christopher Piotrowski mailed his wish list to St. Nick a while ago. But he wanted to let him know that a remote-controlled dirt bike was still at the top of the list. The boy may have been dazzled by the light displays, but even marching toy soldiers didn't distract him from conducting some important yuletide business.

e-mail: bmeyer@buffnews.com

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