Skip to main content

Western New York Explorer's Guide

The only comprehensive travel guide to the region

About Us
Contact Us
Site Map
Member Login
About Author
Media Interviews
WNY Resources
WNY Attractions and More
Explore WNY blog
Upcoming events
Celebrate Black History
Naples, NY
Mayville Ice Festival
Mid winter getaways
Art and History Museums
Visit Aviation Museums
Hiking Trails
Welland Canal
Athenaeum hotel
Bemus Point
Cobblestone Trail
Niagara Pkwy part 1
Niagara Pkwy part 2
Rock Park
Clifton Springs
WNY Amish
Nature in Winter
Wine & Chocolate
Winter Wonderland
Outdoors in winter
Inside in winter
Old Fort Niagara
Power Vista
WNY Waterfalls
Dads and Cars
Native American
Lake Ontario Shore
Lockport Cave
Amish traditions
Day Trips Rock
Country Barn Quilt
Halloween in WNY
Fest of Lights
Chautauqua Holiday
NYC by Train
Chautauqua Wine Trail
Mayville Ice Castle
Outdoor winter fun
Chautauqua Institution
Farm Markets
Recharge at Chautauqua
Niagara Wine Trail
Local boat rides
Local beaches
Chautauqua County
Lewiston Jazz Fest
Buffalo Waterfront
Pumpkin Fun
Chau Wine Trail LEL
Fall Road Trips
Off season getaways
Free attractions
Winter Fun
Spring Break
Winery Train
St Lawrence Seaway
Seaway Trail Journey
Welland Canal LEL
Fall Festivals
Scenic Fall Drives
Holiday Hollow
Shopping in NYC
Holiday Shopping Corning
Buffalo has Wright
Buffalo Religious Art
Ten must see getaways
Chautauqua and Erie
Welland Murals
The Tonawandas
Ten Hidden Places
Wing Festival
Presque Isle
Lewisburg PA
Victorian Christmas
Chocolate Trail
Fun with Grandkids
George Eastman House
National Historic Landmar
Thing for Wings
Olcott Beach
Little League Museum
Rock City
Glass Blowing
Queenston ON
Lawn Fetes
Chautauqua Co Bicentennia
Shaw Festival
Chautauqua County 2
Olcott Carousel
10 Hidden Gems
Olcott Beach 2
Hot Dog Spots
Enjoy Presque Isle
One Tank Trips
Belhurst Castle
Shop in Lewiston
Cuba Cheese Museum
Pumpkinville 2
Snowshoe 2
Spooky Treats
Walkable Shopping
Norman Rockwell Museum
Fatima Shrine Lights
Christmas Lights
Albright Knox
Darwin Martin
Maple Weekend
Divine Mercy Shrine
Erie Canal
Cape Cod
Cobblestone Trail 2
8 Great Fall Road Trips
Little Known Places
Buy Local
Made in America Store
Great Lakes Seaway Trail
Lovely Gardens
WNY Festivals
Erie PA Waterfront
Grape Discovery Center
Salt Sanctuary
Holiday Hollow 2
Historic Hull House
Buffalo Religious Arts Ce
Mall Madness
One day holiday getaways
New York City by train
Cabin Fever
Niagara on the Lake
Elmira 150th Anniversary
Carousels of WNY
Ontario Beach Park
Lockport Locks
USA Bird Supply Blog Arch
Backroads and Byways of U
National Catholic Register
November 20, 2011

Light Display Captures the True Meaning of Christmas


            It was several weeks before Christmas and my family decided to visit one of our favorite local holiday light displays. However, at this display you won’t find the usual smiling snowmen, jolly Santas and frolicking elves, that you find at most holiday exhibits. No, this showcase of holiday lights has the courage to boldly depict the true meaning of the season–the birth of Jesus Christ– by featuring the Holy Family, St. Nicholas, angels, and other religious-themed displays.

This place is The National Shrine Basilica of Our Lady of Fatima in Lewiston, NY, about seven miles north of Niagara Falls, a 15-acre sanctuary dedicated to the Gospel message urged by Our Blessed Mother in Fatima, Portugal in 1917. The shrine was built by the Barnabite Fathers, an Italian order, in 1954. From the Saturday before Thanksgiving to the Sunday after Epiphany, the shrine is transformed into a wonderland of lighted displays.

The centerpiece of the shrine is the dome-shaped Basilica which depicts the northern hemisphere of the globe. On top of the dome, which is actually one of the best places to view the lights, is a 13-foot granite statue of Our Lady of Fatima. Also on the grounds are 130 life size marble and bronze statues of saints.

Father Julio M. Ciavaglia, rector of Our Lady of Fatima Shrine, who is the mastermind behind the Festival of Lights at the shrine, exclaimed that Christmas is his favorite season. “It’s the season that brought me into the light of Christ.”

            As a young boy, Father Julio looked forward to helping his mother set up the nativity set at Christmastime and was intrigued by all the different figures that were part of the set. Fast forward to early 1990; as a priest, Father Julio began to feel disappointment and frustration about the secularization of Christmas and how it seemed to be becoming a big commercial moment, rather than a religious occasion. He noted that the then-popular Festival of Lights event in nearby Niagara Falls featured many secular displays; however, he observed that the nativity set was often set up in an obscure spot of the festival.

            He thought it would be nice to have a display to get people in the mood for Christmas while at the same time reminding them that Christ is the reason for the season. In 1991, he decided to start the religious-themed Festival of Lights at the shrine. “It could almost be considered a rebellion against the commercialism of Christmas,” exclaimed Father Julio.

            What makes the displays at the Fatima Shrine unique is that almost all the items on display have been designed by Father Julio and built by the shrine’s maintenance staff, including Brian Brant, who Father Julio describes as “A wonderful employee sent to me by God.” According to Father Julio, Brant is very talented in making the designs, welding the metal together, cutting out wood, and stringing the lights onto the frames. “I design it and he makes it,” said Father Julio.

            For example, the year that they created a camel for the light display, Father Julio had a huge sheet of paper pinned to the cafeteria wall and he would spend weeks designing and drawing it. When it was done, Brian took the sketch into the studio that they have at the shrine and turned it into a 3-D work of art.

            In 2007, when they added the landmark star, entitled “Come Follow Me,” located at the corner of Swann and Creek Roads, Brian did all the ironwork and welding, as well as the electrical work. “He’s my elf!” chuckled Father Julio.

            They started working on this year’s display in July. He wouldn’t reveal to me the exact design, as it is always kept under wraps until the switch is flipped the first night of the festival. However, he did give me a hint that “people can come and have their photo taken with the three kings.” The display will be worked on every day for several weeks prior to the beginning of the festival.

            To date there are close to 90 different displays on the grounds, encompassing about half of the shrine’s 15 acres. “I try to make the displays educational and include explanations as to what the lights are about,” said Father Julio.

            There are many Christian symbols incorporated into the displays. For example, the cross, the anchor, and the heart with crosses are symbols of the three theological virtues Faith, Hope and Charity and a triangle with an eye is a symbol of the omnipresence of God.

            Another display, The Tree of Jesse, illustrates the genealogy of Jesus. Other displays include twenty eight-foot panels honoring the mysteries of the rosary, a September 11th Fatima Madonna, and a lighted image of a guardian angel. One of the first displays created was a giant lighted nativity scene with a nine-foot angle hovering over the Holy Family.

            A steady stream of visitors from both the United States and Canada visit the shrine each holiday season. “There are a lot of people who make an annual visit to the shrine a family custom. It gets them into the holiday spirit and it prepares them to celebrate Christmas in a faithful way.”

            One of the special events that takes place during the Festival of Lights is the annual Fatima Shrine Baker’s Guild Bake-Off, which takes place on December 11th this year. Well-known area chefs participate as judges, there is musical entertainment and the winning baked goods are auctioned off.


National Shrine Basilica of Our Lady of Fatima, 1023 Swann Road, Lewiston 716-754-7489, The Festival of Lights takes place each night from 5:00-9:00 pm November 19, 2011 to January 8, 2012.