Painting with Lights in Oskaloosa

By Lydia Zerby

During the holiday season in Oskaloosa, lights “paint” buildings around the town square, giving way to a bright, unique and colorful glow for visitors and residents to enjoy.

There’s no shortage of holiday cheer and magic this time of year in the southeast Iowa town of Oskaloosa. What started as a discussion about how to make their downtown holiday lighting more unique and attractive to visitors, has turned into a festive holiday celebration. A breathtaking light display and Christmas parade are bringing an overall boost to Oskaloosa’s local business community.

In 2014, the Seasonal Decorating Committee (part of Oskaloosa Main Street) decided they wanted to implement “Painting with Lights” and worked tirelessly to bring the idea to fruition through countless volunteer hours and a lot of fundraising.

In its inaugural year of 2016, Painting with Lights became a reality after Oskaloosa Main Street successfully raised $110,000 to get started. On Dec. 1, 2016, the lights were first switched on, just minutes before the 29th Annual Lighted Christmas parade.

The holiday lights cover the entire upper part of the buildings around the town square. The lights “paint” the buildings, rather than simply project or outline, which is how the display name originated. This “painting” technique gives a bright and colorful glow that enamors visitors and residents.

Since the original display began, the Mahaska County Courthouse has added lights to its building and several businesses off the square and around the community also have added lights to their buildings. In total, there are more than 250,000 LED Christmas lights around town and more than 30 buildings are “painted.”

One of the benefits of the display is that it’s located in a public space, so it’s free for anyone to see and visit. Jessica Reuter, director of Oskaloosa Main Street, notes the traffic into the community is great for local businesses.

Reuter says, “People have the best reactions to the parade and lights. We always hear the word ‘magical.’ It’s a one-of-a-kind experience. Painting with Lights adds to the festive atmosphere of our holiday events, including a special lighting ceremony, Merry Little Downtown Christmas and our Lighted Christmas Parade, which is now in its 34th year!”

Painting with Lights glows in Oskaloosa each day from 4:30 p.m. to 11 p.m. through Jan. 8. For more information visit or