History of the holidays in Indianapolis, IN

top of soldiers and sailors monument with sunset-@greglipps

Birds eye view of the top of the Soldiers and Sailors Monument with lights during sunset | Photo via @greglipps

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Ever wondered how Indy’s winter traditions came to be? Here are some festive facts about how the Circle City gets into the holiday spirit.


The tradition of the Irvington Luminaria dates back to 1976 | Photo by @lesligibson_

The Luminaria

Every year, the people of Irvington light up the town with thousands of candles placed in both private homes + public spaces. This tradition dates back to 1976, when leaders organized a display of candles propped up in sand bags along Ritter and Washington Streets. That year, about 3,500 candles were distributed — and by last year, the event had grown to feature 13,000+ candles.

The first zoo with holiday lights

Dating back to 1967 — the Indianapolis Zoo was the first zoo in the nation to hold a holiday lights event. Year after year, Christmas at the Zoo continues to grow. For its 53rd year, the zoo added new décor to enhance the holiday experience.

This year, Christmas at the Zoo ranked fourth in the nation in USA Today’s 10Best Zoo Lights poll. This is the Indianapolis Zoo’s fifth top-5 finish, as voted on by USA Today’s readers online.

The most Christmas-y town in the country

Santa Claus may live at the North Pole, but Indiana has its own town bearing St. Nick’s popular moniker. Santa Claus, IN is located about 2 hrs + 45 minutes south of Indy and is ho-ho-home to many Christmas-themed attractions.

The Circle of Lights

Nothing lights up downtown Indy quite like the Circle of Lights — a display of 4,784 colorful LED bulbs that surrounds the Indiana Soldiers and Sailors Monument every year. The bulbs join together to form the shape of a giant holiday tree, + each color represents a different branch of the military.

The inaugural lighting was held in 1962, and the lighting celebration — which is typically held the day after Thanksgiving — continues to draw more than 100,000 visitors each year.


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