A child reaches for a Christmas ornament during the 2021 Vista Lights event (Photos courtesy of Abby Anderson of the Congaree Vista Guild)

Columbia’s Vista Lights is the official kickoff to the city’s holiday season, and this year’s event on Nov. 17 will see new offerings and the return of old favorites.

This is the Vista Congaree Guild’s 37th year holding the event, which will see the streets of Gervais, Park and Lincoln closed off to traffic from 6 to 10 p.m. Businesses will stay open late for food, drink, shopping and on-street entertainment.

“It’s really just a super fun, holiday, festive evening, and a way to support local Vista businesses and also just get excited for the holiday season,” said Meredith Atkinson, the Guild’s executive director.

The lighting of the Christmas tree in front of the River Runner Outdoor Center on Gervais Street is the centerpiece of the event. But this year there will be a second tree on Huger Street, lit at the same time by Clark Ellefson at the Stormwater Studios arthouse.

“We’ve got this beautiful cedar tree, we’re putting 8,000 lights on it,” he said. “And we’ve got a West African drum team that’s gonna be drumming.”

Prisma Health is presenting the event this year, which will see the return of a giant snow globe that was popular when it was last at the event in 2019, Atkinson said. The event marks the return to normal operations since the COVID-19 pandemic began.

“We started to come back with 2021, so I think that this year, 2022, people are just ready to get out, get back to the regular Vista Lights and enjoy the event the way that they’ve always known,” she said.

The annual event has been an important part of the community’s holiday season over the past 30 years, she said.

“This has become a holiday tradition for a lot of families to come out and enjoy this, bring grandma to town, you know, bring their friends and kind of show them what they like to do,” she said.

The businesses in the neighborhood can get exposed to new customers, and people attending can have a chance to go into stores they haven’t had a chance to before, she said. 

“There’s a lot of people that maybe have driven down Gervais Street often, and they kind of see a business and go ‘Oh, I’ve always wanted to go there,’” she said. “Well, this is everybody’s chance.”

Restaurants and bars do well, but art galleries like Ellefson’s also benefit from the increased exposure, he said. The neighboring Stormwater Studios will have several popup artists on site.

Ellefson has been involved with the annual event since it began three decades ago and said it has helped promote the redevelopment in the Vista neighborhood.

“From a business point of view, it’s a positive event,” he said.

The event will have a children’s area on Lincoln Street with Santa Claus, face-painting and balloon artists as well as beer for adults on Gervais, Atkinson said. There will be entertainment from local bands and dancers, and city dignitaries will light the tree at 7 p.m.

“It’s for the kids all the way up to grandma and grandpa,” Atkinson said. “There’s something for everybody.”

A crowded sidewalk during the 2019 event

A group of dancers performing at Vista Lights in 2021

A crowd at the event in 2019

Santa will return to the Vista Lights’ kid’s area this year.