Northern Wilds Magazine
During the height of the pandemic, the Duluth area lighting contest saw its largest number of applicants since Peter Cpin and his family began running it: 150 entrants. | SUBMITTED
Along the Shore

Illuminating the Northland

Traditions are the lifeblood of the holiday season in many ways. Beyond being the catalyst for creating new memories, they often encourage us to gather and spend time with one another. One custom during the winter holidays that has had staying power: light displays. Whether traditional white lights and wreaths or a colorful, musical show of cheer, there’s something special about admiring the selfless work of friends and neighbors whose only mission is to add beauty to the world.

Seeing businesses and individual homes lit up in an outward display of spirit is truly a unique aspect of the celebration. Eight years ago, Peter Cpin and his family were hoping to join the celebration and share their joy with the community by entering the Duluth area lighting contest.

“We like to decorate our house; we weren’t looking to win or anything,” he explains. “We just wanted people to know where to find us so they could come see the lights.”

Instead of being able to easily enter the local contest, their quest to throw their hat in the ring came up empty-handed. The contest didn’t exist anymore; the normal entities that had organized it through the years had let it go. As his family was running an event business at the time, the logical next step was to take over running the contest.

“It was the first week of December and we all of a sudden threw together a quick contest. We put it out there and had a good response,” says Cpin. “We really wanted to bring back that piece of childhood that people have nostalgia for. We wanted to carry the torch.”

Registration for this year’s Duluth area lighting competition ends on Dec. 9 and voting runs from Dec. 2-21. A ceremony to announce the winners will take place on Thursday, Dec. 22. | SUBMITTED

They made the contest their own, acquiring sponsors, setting up a website and social media page, and a unique organizational structure. Though Duluth, Superior, Cloquet and Hermantown are the primary cities included in the challenge, participants outside of those regions are still welcome to sign up. The general public can vote for their favorite display in two categories for each city: Best in Home and Best in Business. Beyond those categories, community voters can cast a vote for their “Favorite Christmas City” and the “Masters” category. To qualify for the Masters, a home must have won the previous two years of competition. There are prize basket awards for best home and business in each featured city, best home overall, and the winner of the Masters.

“The goal is to always keep graduating people up, so that way new people can get a chance to play and participate and get a chance to win,” Cpin notes.

Holiday cheer seekers likely won’t have to travel far to find a home or a business that has dropped their location as a pin on the participant map. During the height of the pandemic, the contest saw its largest number of applicants since Cpin and his family began running it: 150 entrants. In other years, they average around 100 throughout the region, with 20-30 per city.

Taking on another responsibility as a busy family during the holiday season is not a simple feat, but the goal of the contest has always been the same: spread Christmas cheer.

“We want to provide a family opportunity to make some memories. We encourage everyone to participate. It doesn’t have to be a grandiose Grizwald Christmas lighting display. It can just be a dozen lights on the front of your house that you think looks cute,” encourages Cpin.

Registration for the 2022 competition ends on Dec. 9. All votes to determine the winners will be cast by community members through the Lighting Challenge website. Voting runs from Dec. 2-21. The Lighting Challenge Ceremony to announce the winners will be held on Dec. 22. More information can be found on the event’s website ( or their Facebook page.

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