Bisbee Festival of Lights glows another year

The Bisbee Community Chorus sings Christmas Carols to kick off the Bisbee Festival of Lights on Nov. 24, 2017, in Bisbee, Ariz. The chorus has performed at the event for 20 years. (photographed by Leah Gilchrist/ Arizona Sonora News)

From the ashes of a fire at City Hall, the City of Bisbee comes together as a community to kick off the holiday season, even if it’s with fewer twinkling lights.

The Bisbee Festival of Lights, now in its 29th year, brought its annual holiday spirit to the City of Bisbee on Nov. 24, despite the challenge of losing nearly all the decorations the city has gathered over the years.

“We had a lot of stuff that is now gone,” said Lorena Valdez, an administrative assistant for the City of Bisbee Public Works department and one of the event organizers for the Festival of lights.

Valdez said when she took the role of organizing the event six years ago, she “started with very little, but did whatever [she] could” with the decorations the city had at the time.

Over the last six years, Valdez said her kids helped make many of the handmade decorations for the event, most of which were lost in the fire at City Hall on Oct. 11.

With the loss, the community in Bisbee came together to help make the event as festive as it had been in years past, even with fewer decorations. Valdez said she managed to get two Christmas trees, ornaments and garland as donations from the community. Some of the decorations stored in another city building were also spared from the fire.

Bisbee Main Street on Nov. 24, 2017, in Bisbee, Ariz. The annual Festival of Lights lights up the street on the evening of the festival. (Photographed by Leah Gilchrist/ Arizona Sonora News)

The first Festival of Lights celebration was in 1988.  The event has happened nearly every year annually, according to Valdez. It originated as a way to bring the community together during the holiday season, and has always kicked off the day following Thanksgiving.  The original light strings used in the celebration were hand made for the event by the members of the Bisbee community. The community has also been highly encouraged to make decorations to add to the event. Over time, the has expanded to include more elements of the community, including performances, activities, games and vendors for the event.  

“The event has grown, and I think that’s great,” Valdez said. “The people of Bisbee really like it.”

As the event expanded in size, it was moved from main street to City Park, to accommodate more guests. Over the years the event has also expanded to include the Small Town Holiday the following day, and the two-day tour of small local houses.

“It’s become a family event,” Valdez said. “I like this event because of that. It’s very special for me.”

This year, the Bisbee community brought festive spirit to the event. Kicking off the event with caroling from the Bisbee Community Chorus, it set the holiday mood for the rest of the day.

“This is the way Bisbee kicks off the holiday,” said Charles Betham, the director of the Bisbee Community Chorus.

Betham said the community chorus has been together for over 30 years, and has made an annual appearance at the event for the last 20 years.

The caroling chorus brings familiar Christmas songs to the event, and encourages the audience to follow and sing along with them.

The Bisbee Community Chorus is just one of many festive performances throughout the annual event.

Community organizations also brought festive spirit to the event, ensuring there were still many opportunities to get into the holiday spirit.

Bisbee Pride brought plenty of activities for kids to the event, with crafts and ornaments to decorate. The organization joined the event for the first time and teamed up with Nancy Parana Real Estate to bring activities and a raffle to the event.

“Everyone has donated, everyone has been very generous,” said Taylor Hanson, a volunteer with Bisbee Pride. “It’s really great, we’ve had a great group of people throughout the day.”

Many local organizations made donations to the event to make it possible for the City of Bisbee, including to the raffle Bisbee Pride held with Nancy Parana Real Estate.

Valdez took the event and has made it a festive celebration, even when there weren’t the decorations to do so. Her kids have helped her keep the event running smoothly over the last several year, including this one.

“I thought, there was something more we could do for the community,” Valdez said. “The festival of lights is just special.”

Leah Gilchrist is a reporter for Arizona Sonora News, a service from the School of Journalism with the University of Arizona. Contact her at

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