The historic Clifton Mill, built in 1802 and still operational, opens its Legendary Lights display on Friday, Nov. 29.
Here’s what you need to know about one of the Dayton area’s most beloved traditions that has grown fans across the nation:
✨Four million lights come on in unison
Unlike other Christmas light displays, where the lights are already on when you arrive, Clifton Mill stages a dramatic opening where people who arrive at 6 p.m. get to see all four million lights turn on at once, producing a Fourth of July-like “ooh and aah” moment. Throughout the evening, either on the hour or every half hour, the lights will be turned off and then turned on again so the later-comers can experience it as well.
The lights themselves cover Clifton Mill’s scenic attributes, including the mill, a covered bridge, cliffs and riverbanks. There’s also a synchronized light show to the music of the Trans-Siberian Orchestra’s “Christmas in Sarajevo.”
“It has a traditional, old-time feel to it,” said Anthony Satariano, Clifton Mill’s owner and operator. “It’s not very modern or high-tech, more historic and scenic. You can’t go into Wal-Mart and buy a 200-year-old covered bridge.”
🧸A toy collection for all generations
Clifton Mill’s toy collection consists of Christmas trees decorated according to different time periods – the 1950s through ’80s are represented — with the appropriate toys of each era stacked underneath.
“Young people can’t identify with it as much because they’re the digital generation,” Satariano said. “But for someone like me who grew up in the 1960s and ’70s, there’d be an old Sears and Roebuck catalog, G.I. Joe figures, Barbie dolls. Other people might come in say, ‘ There are my roller skates, and there’s my Easy-Bake Oven,’ and so on.”
🎅🏻The Santa Claus Museum
The museum contains approximately 3,600 one-of-a-kind Santas, many of them donated by private parties.
“Someone might bring in a Santa that was part of their late grandmother’s estate,” Satariano said. “They didn’t want to throw it away, so they brought it to us. There are a lot of old Santas like that, with stories behind them. Some people will make Santa-oriented items and bring them to us, and that’s their personal connection to Clifton Mill. They can bring in their family and say, ‘There’s my piece.’ We don’t buy anything off the shelf for it.”
The miniature village recreates old-school Christmas department store window displays, complete with animated figures.
“For someone of my age, it’s reminiscent of our parents taking us to downtown Dayton,” Satariano said. “It’s funny to see the adults just staring. Not many other places create these emotional moments.”
🎅🏻Watch Santa at work
This is a rare occasion where children can see Santa but not interact with him. It’s more like watching a movie, only live. Families will watch Santa check his list, tinker with toys and then go up the chimney to load his sleigh.
📺Clifton Mill’s light show is nationally-recognized
Last December, Clifton Mill was the winner of a $50,000 prize on ABC show “The Great Christmas Light Fight.” Back in 2017, producers from the show came to visit Clifton Mill in all of its holiday glory. So, for a year, the entire town itself had to contain the monumental secret that they were hiding — that they had won a televised national holiday lights contest.
In addition to this honor, Clifton Mill was awarded second place in USA Today’s “Best Public Holiday Lights Display” contest.
🕑Best time to go?
“If you live relatively close, I wouldn’t come on the weekend if you can help it,” Satariano said. “On the weekends, you’ll have long lines because there’s a lot to see and people take their time. Best to come during the week around when we open at 6 p.m., which I know is tough because people are just getting off work. You could come later, at around 8:30 when people are leaving, but then you’re on a time crunch to see everything because we start closing at 9 p.m.”
WANT TO GO?
What: Legendary Lights at Clifton Mill
Where: 75 Water St., Clifton
When: 5-9:30 p.m. Nov. 29-Dec. 30, 2019. Lights go on at 6 p.m. Display closes at 8 p.m. on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day. Closed on New Year’s Eve.
Cost: $10, children 3 and younger are admitted free
More Info: 937-767-5501 | Website