HIDALGO — The fluorescent glow of holiday lights popped in contrast against the sky’s slowly dying golden hour, taking with it the sun’s warmth as Tuesday’s weather gradually dropped below a crisp 60 degrees, creating the perfect environment for a holiday tradition that many would argue outdoes similar events around the world in many ways.

The city of Hidalgo is celebrating its 30-year anniversary of its Festival of Lights event at the Payne Arena all month long with their longest drive-thru trail yet.

Coming in at 2.2 miles of nonstop holiday lights in the shapes of familiar characters and real-world locations, the festival is considered by city officials the longest illuminated and animated trail in the world, which is why the minds behind the festival consider Hidalgo to be “the brightest place in Texas.”

“There are other trails that claim to be the largest but [they have] large gaps in between,” Selenne Garza, director and coordinator of the Festival of Lights, said. “The one that claims to be the largest in the world is one mile and that one is back-to-back, and they do a tour around the country but they’re only one mile, ours is 2.2 miles.”

What makes Hidalgo’s lights and statues even more breathtaking is the fact that they are all handcrafted by city workers, which might make one’s jaw drop when viewing the lit-up castles, replicas of the Statue of Liberty and Rio de Janeiro’s Christ the Redeemer as well as H-E-B’s 620-foot Tunnel of Lights that’s made up of 30,000 lights and are synced to the music playing as event goers drive through it.

Not only did the workers take six to eight months designing and crafting the entirety of the trail from scratch, but they also fixed up the carnival area where Santa’s house, several decorations, a Christmas tree and other lights are located.

Needless to say, the event helps create jobs for welders, craftsmen and the like to pull off the complex but doable task at hand.

“Everything is made local and that’s the idea; to keep it local and make it something to be proud of,” Garza said. “It’s something you won’t see anywhere else because it’s not something you can order.”

This year’s theme is “Be Our Guest,” a reference to Disney’s “Beauty and the Beast,” which is also featured on the trail with statues of Belle and the Beast, a giant lighted rose and characters like Mrs. Potts and her son Chip.

Beauty and the Beast rose is seen during the Hidalgo Festival of Lights Tuesday, Dec.21, 2021 in Hidalgo. (Delcia Lopez/The Monitor | [email protected])

“Beauty and the Beast” isn’t the only Disney property represented as there’s a section dedicated to “Toy Story” as well as Marvel’s “Avengers” and other heroes like police and firefighters.

Toward the middle of the trail is a tribute to the lives lost during the ongoing pandemic with signs that read: ‘In Memoriam of COVID-19 victims and tribute to all first responders and front-line workers, America strong.”

The festival’s trail is probably the safest event to attend for those worried of contracting the virus as families can take their own vehicle to enjoy the tour, buy snacks from curbside concession stands and purchase tickets online, which are scanned upon entry, so it’s possible to have very limited contact with others.

One $20 general admission ticket is required per vehicle and has a 10-person maximum capacity. If a vehicle has more than 10 occupants, two tickets are required to enter. A $40 Dash Pass is also available for purchase for those who’d like to skip the line.

For those who don’t mind the crowds, wristbands for all the carnival rides are $25 and tickets to ride the Santa Express, which tours the trail of lights, are $10 per person.

Other than that, the event is free to visit and enjoy Santa’s house, the Christmas tree, petting zoo and the live music which all starts every day, until Jan. 2, at 6 p.m.

Hidalgo’s annual festival continues to grow as not only Rio Grande Valley residents come to visit but others travel internationally to enjoy what city officials say is the world’s largest illuminated trail.

“We have plans for next year,” Garza said. “We don’t want to spoil it yet but it’s going to be bigger and better every year.”