As a little girl, my parents loved taking me, my brothers and sister to holiday light shows to celebrate the season, and mostly, to watch our eyes glisten.
This is a reason why I love taking my kids to do the exact same thing. One light display I went to when I was little was the The Legendary Lights of Historic Clifton Mill. Clifton Mill is celebrating 31 years of Christmas lights and celebrations, and new this year, they won USA TODAY’S 10 Best Readers’ Choice 2018 Travel Awards. This was a huge accomplishment for them, being that it was the first time they were able to qualify for a nomination since the competition was usually for residential light displays, according to family owner, Anthony Satariano, whose mother and father purchased the mill in 1987.
“They had to create a new category for us,” says Satariano. “We’re not Las Vegas city big, but I’m bigger than a homeowner, so it was me, and We Care Park, and a place in Kentucky, so we’re a first.”
Now with over 4 million lights, upping the amount this year for the competition, they completely cover the hill, old bridge, mill and gorge. They wrap around the mill as it slowly spins and you hear the water from the Little Miami River rush by. Right at 6 p.m., the first showing of the lights and music turns on. Every 30 minutes they switch them off and back on again because everyone needs to see the awing moment. It’s almost pitch black as everyone stands still. Then the drum roll moment and suspense, and on come the breathtaking lights followed by Christmas tunes synchronized to the lights on the bridge, trees and hills. Just beautiful and like nothing I’ve ever seen before. Not often are my kids speechless, but this light display sure did the trick.
Clifton Mill is not only famous for its lights, but it’s lit-up Miniature Village, a Santa Claus Museum with over 1,000 Santas, an antique Toy Collection makes them unique, too. My kids’ little eyes popped as they watched Santa sleeping, fishing, checking his list, singing and more. Most were classic Coca-cola kind-of Santa’s and none you have ever seen before. “There are so many Santas!” says my 7-year-old. Then it was off to grab a hot cocoa and have a hot dog while we waited for the lights.
Once the crowd came in, the line was down the street and cars were miles down the road just waiting to witness the lights. It’s best to get there early to avoid the long line, and, be sure to find a good spot on the little bridge facing the mill or inside the cozy, warm restaurant for the best view. We were lucky to have a good spot, and seeing the smiles on my little’s faces was so priceless.
According to Satariano, since they won their award, people from all over the U.S. have gotten to see the legendary lights as well.
“Here we are a town of 155 people, and now you people in Los Angelas, in New York, or Dallas, or wherever, they’ve all seen it.”
The Christmas lights at Clifton Mill is now my little family’s new tradition. Satariano says, creating family traditions is one thing that makes them different than any other light display.
“Now we’re seeing multi-generations, we’ve been doing it so long; like you are here now,” Satariano smiles as he points at me and my kids. “And you’re child will come back someday and then they will bring their children. We’re now a part of your family’s holiday tradition.”
Be sure to check out the cute gift shop carrying local soaps, lip balm, and treats, and a there is also a tasty restaurant open for breakfast and lunch. It closes for the lights, but don’t worry, there is plenty of hot chocolate, hot dogs, soft warm pretzels and more to snack on as you take in this one-of-a-kind display.
The lights go on through December 31. For more information on the legendary lights and more about the historic mill, visit cliftonmill.com.