Typically holidays bring a sense of normality and are a time to be anticipated. With events, sports and certain traditions being canceled due to the pandemic, Monroe is looking to one event in particular: bringing members of the community together and providing the town with a glimpse of what once was.
Homes adorned in holiday lights are usually a normal sight in Monroe during the holidays, but this year Monroe has seen a surplus in decorated homes due to the “Light Up Monroe” event hosted by the Monroe Playground Foundation.
“When I was younger, my parents used to drive us around every December looking for Christmas lights and it was always a dream to be a part of a town-wide contest. When we discussed the idea of Light up Monroe, we all believed it would be a great hit, especially when so many families have been stuck in their houses with limited things to do, but we never dreamed it would have such a positive impact on the community,” said Michael Ganino, treasurer of the Monroe Playground Foundation.
Members of the community can navigate through Monroe to find the 46 homes that have entered into the competition. Additionally, an interactive map was posted to the Monroe Playground Foundation website and has caught the attention of citizens on Facebook where tips and comments on the event have caught wind.
Voting also took place. Twenty-five Judges comprised of volunteers and partners voted for decorated houses based on five categories such as the “Santa’s Favorite” award. Citizens also had a chance to choose a winner by voting for the “People’s Choice Award” on the Foundation website.
Sophomore Aiden Clausen had his house entered into the contest.
“I think friendly competitions like these are a good way to get people distracted from being in quarantine. It gives people something to look forward to, and competition is always fun. We always decorate, but not normally as much as we did this year,” Clausen said.
Neighboring towns have also hosted similar holiday light contests. Danbury, Bethel, Newtown, Brookfield and Shelton are among those hosting events. Still, “Light Up Monroe” is notably one of the first in the state and has even become a Connecticut tourist attraction listed on the Connecticut Office of Tourism website.
For those planning on viewing the displays, Ganino recommends splitting viewing the lights into several nights. Bring some hot chocolate, cookies or popcorn and play Christmas music. He also urges everyone to vote for their favorite house.
Along with the contest, the foundation is raising funds to rebuild the wooden playground known as “Kid’s Kreation” at Wolf Park.
“The new playground will be a meeting space, a play spot, a place where families and friends will gather and celebrate just having fun. With the new surfacing and state of the art components, all children, regardless of their challenges, will be able to join their friends and make memories that will last a lifetime,” Ganino said.
The Monroe Playground Foundation was formed in the fall of 2017 and it works with residents, families and the Town of Monroe to provide the community with a safe and creative playground environment. Around the time of its creation, the foundation started fundraising for the project and since then has raised $125,000 out of its $400,000 goal. Extensive plans, information and renderings of the new playground can be found on their website.
Although separated, Monroe residents seem to find ways to stay connected through social media.
“We heard about the “Light Up Monroe” event on Facebook and through family friends,” stated Clausen.
Over 1,300 members joined the “Light up Monroe” Facebook group in less than a week. Many are becoming inspired to get outside and explore Monroe.
“2020 has been filled with many challenges and we’ve been thrilled that families have come together to decorate their houses and even more families have spent hours touring the magical holiday displays in town. ‘Light up Monroe’ is just a small thing in the big picture of people’s lives, but it has managed to bring a bit of joy to families in Monroe just when we all needed it,” Ganino remarked.
In a not so ordinary holiday season, Monroe is connecting the community and creating traditions that may come for years to follow.
Clark Griswold Award: The Ervin family, 10 Stonewall Lane
Santa’s Favorite: The Knouse family, 248 Moose Hill Road
Best Use of Non-Lighting Decorations: The Oleyar family, 133 Old Castle Drive
Best Use of Animation: The Katz family, 92 Purdy Hill Road
The People’s Choice Award: Sebben family, 36 Admiral Drive