More than 45,000 visitors,
One million lights.
The University of Georgia’s holiday light show, presented by the Office of the UGA President, exceeded expectations, selling out more than a week’s worth of nights and drawing people from 43 states, including Alaska.
“Thank you to our ticket holders, sponsors and community partners who supported us in the first year of our holiday lights show, Winter WonderLights,” said Jenny Cruse-Sanders, State Botanical Garden of Georgia director.
“The addition of Winter WonderLights allows us to increase our impact in the community and across our state, and it supports our mission to create and nurture an environment for learning, inspiration and engagement through horticulture, conservation, science-based programs and lasting partnerships.”
The show, which ran from Dec. 1, 2021 to Jan. 9, 2022, featured 11 illuminated displays along a fully accessible half-mile path.
While many people were from Athens and surrounding counties, many also came from across the state and the country, many taking advantage of the show while visiting for the holidays.
Tony Eubanks, an Athens resident since 1980, walked through Winter WonderLights with a group of friends on a foggy Friday night before Christmas. Eubanks said he’s not a huge fan of the holiday season.
“It’s too commercial, too much pressure, I’m sure I’m not alone in thinking that,” he said.
However, after walking through the light show, he was in a magical state of mind.
“It was just wonderful,” he said. “I thought, ‘I have Christmas spirit for the first time in years.’ I can’t wait to see what it looks like next year.”
Jennifer Duvall and her son Walker Duvall volunteered at Winter WonderLights one night in early December. An eighth-grader at Oconee County Middle School, Walker had an opportunity to volunteer at the show through the school’s Beta Club.
Jennifer Duvall and her son Walker volunteer at Winter WonderLights. (Photo credit: Jennifer Duvall)
“He asked me if I would do it with him, and I said, ‘Sure, I’ll do that with you,’” Jennifer Duvall said.
“Volunteering showed him how much of an impact you can have on people. It sparked his belief in something he should be doing more of.”
Katherine Czarick, a UGA senior pursuing a degree in marketing, and three of her roommates visited the show on one of its last nights, before the spring semester began in January.
“I was actually shocked by how bright and how colorful it was, there were so many things to look at all at once,” Czarick said. “It was exciting to see something like this and it brought back childhood memories for me.”
A Winter WonderBar, produced for the light show by locally-owned Condor Chocolates, was a hit. More than 500 were sold over the 32 nights of the event.
When the light show ended in January, 190 pounds of winter vegetables growing in the Garden of Delights in the Alice H. Richards Children’s Garden were harvested and donated to Campus Kitchen, the student-powered hunger relief program based in the UGA Office of Service-Learning.
Children’s Garden Curator Katie McCollum harvests winter vegetables to donate to Campus Kitchen. (Photo by Laurel Clark/PSO)
More than two years in the making, the display was designed to connect visitors to the garden and nature in a unique way, while also providing a new seasonal experience in Athens. Proceeds from ticket sales, parking and merchandise will go back into the garden, supporting education, horticulture and conservation programs. With the exception of special events, like Winter WonderLights, annual festivals, classes, camps and special programs, entrance to the State Botanical Garden of Georgia, a UGA Public Service and Outreach unit, is free.
In addition to the UGA Office of the President, Winter WonderLights sponsors included Friends of the State Botanical Garden of Georgia, Trumps Catering, Synovus, Condor Chocolates, Candy and Malcolm Burgess, Chris and Lanse Leach, Sandra and Trey Paris, Barron’s Rental Center, Westminster Christian Academy, Carol Cuff, Betsy and Mark Ellison, Brenda and Ham Magill, Athens Ford, Betsy and Roger Birkholz, Sandy and Jim Boyles, Joanne and Robert Hecht, Heritage Garden Club, Southeastern Growers, Inc., American Pest Control, Snyder Remarks and See Spark Go.
For more information about the State Botanical Garden, visit botgarden.uga.edu.
Writer: Laurel Clark, Laurel.Clark@uga.edu, 706-542-6014