• What: Capital Holiday Lights
• When: Nov. 20-Jan. 3, from 6-9 p.m. Sunday-Thursday and 6-10 p.m. Friday and Saturday
• Where: Washington Park in Albany
• How much: $15 per car
• Info: www.albanycapitalholidaylights.com or (518) 435-0392
When Lenny Ricchiuti speaks of the Capital Holiday Lights in the Park, he speaks proudly of how the annual event has become a tradition.
“It’s a holiday tradition since 1997,” said Ricchiuti, a retired sergeant of the Albany Police force and executive director of the Albany’s Police Athletic League. “Coming from an Italian family, when I was a kid, we’d all go to grandma’s because that’s where dinner was. … Families don’t get together for dinners anymore. You have both parents that work. You have some single-parent homes. [The lights] is their family tradition now.”
The 18th annual Price Chopper Capital Holiday Lights begins a new season with more days and special events starting on Nov. 20 – breaking away from the traditional Black Friday opening day.
Ricchiuti and PAL have been involved with the Washington Park event since its inception 18 years ago. Gathering sponsorships to fund the program lasts all year long. The physical work —“the full court press,” he said – begins right after Labor Day, involving 12 weeks of refurbishing the equipment and preparing the electrical wiring.
This year’s Holiday Lights will feature more than 125 illuminated displays and scenes throughout almost 2 miles of Washington Park. Ricchiuti said much of this summer’s work revolved around replacing incandescent bulbs with new LED ones.
“We try to be a little more conscientious and environmentally friendly,” said Ricchiuti.
He said the energy-efficient bulbs should ultimately help with the electrical bill. Every bit helps, as all proceeds benefit approximately 2,800 children through juvenile crime-prevention programs of Albany PAL, said Ricchiuti.
See the lights twinkle in Washington Park and enjoy “Christmas in Albany,” the theme for the newest edition of the lights that open nightly at 6 p.m. through Jan. 3.
The Reverberators will headline on Nov. 23 and 30, and Dec. 7 and 21. The group’s song, “Christmas in Albany,” has become a regional favorite of those who have visited the Lights in Washington Park.
“Our opening week is very different this year,” said Ricchiuti. “We’re calling it ‘Sneak Peek Week,’ and it has a lot of special features.”
For those who wish to walk the lights, special “Walk Around the Lake” nights are from 4-8 p.m. on Sunday, Nov. 23, with the inaugural Chili, Chowder and Soup Fest with area restaurants. Samples will be sold for $1 each. The lights will also be open to walkers on family and pet nights from 5-8 p.m. on Nov. 24 and 25. Proceeds from the themed walks will be going to three charities: The Albany Damien Center, Ronald McDonald House and Vested Interest in K9s, Inc., which provides bullet/stab protective vests for New York’s police dogs. Suggested donation per walk is $5 for an individual and $10 for a family.
The Lakehouse, full of crafts and plenty of refreshments, is open nightly with the exception of Nov. 26 (Thanksgiving Eve), Thanksgiving Day (Nov. 27) Christmas Eve and Christmas Day. The last night the Lakehouse is open to the public is Dec. 30.
For the Ricchiuti family, visiting the lights is a part of their Christmas activities.
“We’ve been doing it for 17 years,” he said. “After dinner [and] before dessert.”
He said his kids, now in their 20s, make it a part of their tradition as well. And, it’s a trend he and the staff members have observed in other visitors too.
“We’ll get 500 visitors on Christmas Eve because every year it’s about the same. Christmas, we know every year we’ll get around 300 cars – year in and year out.”
In addition to music, crafts and lights, Santa and his reindeer will visit on Nov. 20 and Dec. 3, 10, 16 and 23 before they leave for the North Pole. Father Christmas will be in the Lakehouse to visit through Dec. 23.
Horse-drawn carriage rides are offered Thursday through Sunday evenings at the Madison Avenue entrance to Washington Park by Dreaming Tree Farm. For more information or reservations (suggested), contact Dreaming Tree Farm at (518) 312-6387.
The hours for Capital Holiday Lights are Sundays through Thursdays from 6-9 p.m. and Fridays and Saturdays from 6-10 p.m. Admission is $15 per car, $25 for 10-18 passenger vehicles (including limos and RVs), $50 for 19-28 passenger capacity vehicles, $75 for school buses and $100 for commercial coaches.
For more information and the most up-to-date-schedule, visit www.albanycapitalholidaylights.com or call Albany PAL at (518) 435-0392.