In the darkest days, one single shining light can make all the difference in the world.
Imagine, then, what it might feel like to be immersed in a sea of one million.
Beginning Friday, Nov. 27, those seeking their own personal hope explosions can bathe in the technicolor warmth of the Holiday Light Show at Rotary Botanical Gardens. Seen annually by tens of thousands of visitors, the seasonal favorite returns in full force for an expanded 23-night run.
“As far as events go, the Holiday Light Show is my favorite,” said RBG Executive Director Becky Kronberg. “I love the excitement as everything comes to life, and the effort put forth to bring it all together is just heartwarming. Being able to carry this out and bring holiday cheer to members of the community is a such a wonderful feeling.”
What isn’t wonderful, unfortunately, is that COVID-19 continues to suppress a return to pre-pandemic normality. And when it comes to making concessions over public health, the light show is no exception.
“This has been a challenging year, and we have had to remain fluid,” Kronberg said. “The logistics continue to change every day, and keeping up on everything to maintain safety has been a lot of work.”
As coronavirus cases rise and Rock County slides back to Phase One protocols, Kronberg and her staff have been diligent in taking measures to ensure a safe experience.
“The show is set up in a way that, if people stay socially distanced and wear face coverings, it can happen very safely,” she said. “We have taken every precaution to make that happen.”
Safeguards include moving the show’s entire operations outdoors. That means patrons will not be allowed inside buildings, tickets must be purchased in advance, and concessions will not be available. Porta-potties will be stationed in the Wellness Garden.
Also, 2019’s total attendance of 50,000 will most likely go unapproached.
“Obviously, that can’t happen this year,” she said. “We will be limiting the number of people admitted each night so our guests can have a safe experience. We have to do this for the health and safety of our visitors and the community.”
Considering the show is the nonprofit’s largest annual fundraiser, capping attendance is less than ideal. But Kronberg stresses this year’s event is about more than money.
“We’re just pleased we can have it,” she said. “Yes, it is a big fundraiser for us, but that’s not the focus here. It is particularly important this year that we continue the light show to give families a festive opportunity to experience the joy of the holidays.”
Despite the limitations RBG faces, visitors to this year’s show won’t likely notice any deficiencies. There will still be enough light strands to illuminate the entire 20-acre facility, and animated displays will again appear throughout the 1 1/4-mile walking path.
In fact, several new displays have been added. They include:
- Animated penguins in scarves and hats sliding down a snow slide near the koi pond.
- Illuminated, multifaceted ornamental balls hung from trees in the Wellness Garden.
- A collection of lights resembling a meteor shower across the main garden pond.
- A polar bear figure climbing a small Christmas tree while another runs away, tangled up in lights, near the Wellness Garden.
Kronberg is proud of the Holiday Light Show. She is even more proud of the people who make sure it happens each year, regardless of the obstacles.
“There are many gardens that put up animated displays, but there are not many that offer the walk-through experience we do,” Kronberg said. “This has become such a beloved tradition, everybody would have been devastated if it didn’t happen.
“Our staff and volunteers share a common goal to make this show the best it can be so visitors can come here, have a wonderful experience and share the feelings of magic and excitement.”