Visit the La Salette Shrine Light Display

A trip to see the Christmas lights in Enfield is a family tradition



Photos by Brother Claude F. Rheaume, M.S.

In the 1950s, when Dinah Shore was singing “See the USA in your Chevrolet,” Mr. and Mrs. America dutifully piled their kids in the car and went searching for sights of interest. During the holiday season in New Hampshire, many wended their way to the lighting display at La Salette Shrine in Enfield. 

This was at a time when an outdoor lighting display might mean a candle in the window or a multi-colored string of lights on a shrub, and it was decades before Danny DeVito entered an epic battle to trick out his house with so many Christmas lights it could be seen from space in the film, “Deck the Halls.” At La Salette, wide-eyed spectators gathered to view a 20-acre hillside alive with tens of thousands of multicolored lights. 

And they’re still doing it today. 

“They come by the hundreds and if not thousands. It’s a family tradition,” says Malcolm Walker, who sometimes oversees the onsite souvenir store where multicolored signs proclaim Noel, Peace, Love and Joy. Great electric candles and candy canes glow. Trees are ablaze in color.

During December, when the lights are aglow every night, tour buses idle in the parking lot. Visitors warm their hands with hot chocolate as they await the big moment when the switch is thrown on the festival of lights.

In the cafeteria/souvenir shop below the hill, visitors purchase candy apples, coffee and other refreshments as well as knickknacks, coffee cups and other keepsakes. 

The site is operated by the Missionaries of Our Lady of La Salette, a Catholic religious order named after the apparition of the Virgin Mary reported to have been seen by two children in France in 1848. But its religious use goes way back.

It was previously a Shaker community that was founded in 1782. The Shakers called Mascoma Valley “Chosen Vale.” The community flourished and had as many as 350 members in its heyday. The massive Great Stone Dwelling House built on the property in 1837 still stands. It is the largest Shaker structure ever built and is now operated as a museum.

Membership in the Enfield Shakers dwindled until it closed in 1924 and remaining members moved to the Shaker community in Canterbury. The property was vacant for four years until the La Salette Missionaries bought the property for $25,000. The order operated a seminary there until 1974 when it became a shrine and retreat center.

The Christmas display has been operated every December since 1954, but the lights almost went out earlier this year when the North American Chapter of La Salette held a vote to determine whether to close the facility because of the dwindling number of priests in the religious order. The shrine is operated by five members, six in the summer, but an upswell of public opinion led at a vote to keep the facility open at least for the time being.

Beauty, of course, is in the eyes of the beholder. In this day of mega-light home displays replete with music, LEDs  and strobe lights, La Salette might not be the best or the brightest, but it is certainly among the most traditional and beloved.

 

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