This seasonal event, Winter Garden aGlow, is straight out of your childhood imagination, with towering trees, holiday scenes, twinkling archways, a holiday village, and a model train. Volunteers and IBG employees begin hanging lights on Sept. 1 to prepare for a Thanksgiving Day opener. Executive Director Erin Anderson says it takes nearly a dozen people hanging lights five days a week, to be ready in time.
It’s the 22nd year running for Winter Garden aGlow. Last year, the event saw its highest guest count yet—70,000—and organizers are hoping for a similar number in 2018. The event runs until New Year’s Day, giving guests some 40 days across the holiday season to experience the magic.
“In that span of time, people don’t feel overcrowded,” Anderson said. “They have space to explore the garden but, at the same time, experience the sense of community. Children who attended in the inaugural years now have children of their own to share in the holiday lights.”
She noted that the event is truly a winter tradition for many: for example, one of their longtime garden volunteers has brought her family every year since the event began with only 10,000 lights in 1996. Her husband recently passed away, and the event is now imbued with cherished memories of the time they spent there together. She attends with her children and grandchildren and “share memories they’ve had of the event and with him in attendance,” Anderson said. “A permanent bench in the garden honoring her husband is being planned.”
Winter Garden aGlow is the backdrop to several wedding proposals annually, and Anderson said the staff “loves to be a part of the experience and help support it in any way we can.” Many of these couples return in the summer to host their weddings in the gardens, she said.
This year, visitors can expect a full-blown experience on weekdays, not only weekends, and more interactive light exhibits, said Event director Adan Callsen. There are also plans for a carpool discount on Fridays and Saturdays.
Santa visits the garden, carolers and dancers abound, and cookies and cocoa will be available every day. Parents can bring their kids on weekdays to beat the weekend rush.
“All vendors are onsite every single day, not just the weekend,” Callsen said. “The same experience on a Saturday, can be had on a Monday.”
IBG partnered with Illumicone this year to bring hands-on, interactive light exhibits to the event for the first time. Illumicone is an interactive light show program previously featured at the JUMP building downtown. The exhibits at Winter Garden aGlow will allow kids and adults to customize aspects of the light show. For instance, buttons will be available to change the speed of the lights changing and to add sound effects.
“[Events like Winter aGlow] help pay staff, buy equipment and plants, and helps us do things like incorporate new areas into the garden, finalize the Children’s Adventure Garden, and increase lighting capabilities,” Anderson said. “It helps fund the day-to-day operations of the garden.”