The weather is cold, and the sky is darkening. You walk through the Visitor’s Center and onto the paved path through the garden. It smells of peppermint and gingerbread. Christmas villages are spread throughout the greenhouse. Bright lights are wrapped around the trees. A moving mosaic made up of over 500 luminaries sways and sweeps down the hillside to the music. The hot chocolate warms your hands and coats your throat as you walk. The towering tree gleams against the night. The lanterns in the Light of The World Garden emit their soft glow beside the brush.  Frosty stands tall with his corn cob pipe and his button nose. You think about how maybe, magic is anything you wish could last forever.

Because of Luminaria’s enchanting nature, it is easy to imagine it as something that just showed up one day.  A few bippity boppity boos and poof – there it is. But, in reality, Luminaria takes months to prepare for.

How do you prepare for Luminaria?

It starts with our Signature Experiences team, who began planning for this year’s Luminaria as soon as last year’s finished. Amanda Lundberg, Thanksgiving Point’s Senior Manager of Signature Events says, “While it’s still set up and put together, but after the event is closed, we’ll do another walk-through and talk about new ideas, improvements, changes, if we want to switch anything out, purchase new lights, or any of the big things that take a long time to develop.”

The decorations get put in the basement, and the event gets put on the back burner until it gets a bit closer. When summer begins to set and autumn sneaks in, they begin working on tickets and organizing the pre-sale. During this time, the gardeners begin to wrap the trees in lights. They start pulling decorations out of the basement and storing them in the greenhouse. “Starting in August, the gardeners put out lights every other day. They alternate, gardening one day and putting up the lights the next,” Jessica Berrett, the Ashton Garden’s Horticultural Manager explains. “Then we take a little break to plant all the bulbs for the Tulip Festival, about four weeks, and then start back with the lights again. Now that the gardens are closed, we focus all of our time on lights.”

While the gardeners wrap the trees and work on the mosaic on the hill, Amanda and her team are making sure all the different departments are on the same page and are working on building the Luminaria Village. She says, “Luminaria Village has a whole bunch of buildings that don’t live there the rest of the year – there are fire pits we have to dig propane lines to, and reindeer that come in, and different infrastructures that have to be built and placed.” They also fill the greenhouse with Christmas villages and prepare the upgraded experiences offered at Luminaria – the fire pits and igloos.

Once they’re all finished, and every section of Luminaria is complete, they welcome in the guests.

What is the most difficult part?

Both Jessica and our Garden and Landscape Director, Tony Latimer, say the most difficult part of Luminaria preparation is the mosaic on the Grand Allee. He says, “Each of the luminaries has to be in the same spot it was the year before. We try to keep the spacing exactly the same, but you’re going down a steep hill and then a level area – you’re jumping a sidewalk, you’re jumping the creek, and that gets tricky trying to keep everything all lined up.” In the past, they’ve had to pull up days of work because they were off by an inch which turned into 72 inches. Like Jessica says, “There’s a lot of math involved, there’s a lot of physical labor, and the grid has to be perfect.”

On the event’s side, Amanda says the most difficult aspect is “just that there are so many things that need to happen in such a short period of time. It’s like leading an orchestra with people who need to do things in the right order at the right times, and that has to happen in such a short period of time with whatever the weather is outside.”

But year after year, our incredibly talented teams have worked through every difficulty and challenge to create this magical environment for families to share moments together and create their own holiday experiences.

What is your favorite part?

Tony says, “I think the strength of the show is just the diversity in it. There are different types of lights and different types of programming. We use music, we use different smells. So, I like the diversity through the whole thing.”

Lauren Abplanalp, our Horticultural Manager agrees, “It’s just fun having multiple things that capture people’s senses.”

Most elements of Luminaria stay the same, but every year a few things change.

Jessica says, “We try to change it so there’s something different because we have families and people who come year after year, who make it a tradition, so we try to make it a bit different. Some things stay the same, some change.” We’ve still got all the classic Luminaria elements, with a few new twists that would impress the likes of Robert Frost.

Come experience the light our teams have worked so hard for – visit us at Luminaria!