With so many holiday events happening all across Vancouver in these final days before Christmas, it pays to be choosy when deciding which to attend. One event that never fails to deliver is the annual Festival of Lights at VanDusen Botanical Garden.
Now in its 26th year, the Festival of Lights is a Vancouver holiday tradition. Running from December 10 – January 2 (except Christmas day), the event draws huge crowds every evening to witness the 1.4 million lights adorning the gardens.
I went this year with my friend and our two-year olds, and to say the kids were in awe is a bit of an understatement (in fact, my friend and I were pretty impressed, too!). Every tree, shrub, pathway, fence, gazebo, and shelter seemed to have been painted with light.
Themed pathways such as the Gingerbread Wood (complete with playhouse-sized gingerbread house) and Candy Cane Lane guide visitors through the bejeweled garden, while every half-hour, the lights around central Livingston Lake flash in time with festive music for a brilliantly choreographed display known as Dancing Lights. There’s also a Santa’s living room – a warm room where kids can visit St. Nick (and you can snap a photo of them on his lap for no extra charge. Take that, mall Santas!)
Of course, there’s also plenty of food to be had, from candy canes and hot cocoa to more substantial offerings like waffles and smokies. We kept the kids happy with a jumbo bag of kettle corn.
Volunteers are a huge part of this event, checking each individual light over a period of eight weeks. After the lights have been checked, VanDusen’s 12 staff gardeners plus six extra temporary workers brought in from other Park Board sites work full time for six weeks to install the lights. It truly is an immense undertaking, and while you visit you can’t help but admire the work behind the displays.
But perhaps the best part of the event is the mood it creates. Nearly everyone is in a festive spirit. People smile and talk to each other (something that isn’t always that common in Vancouver).
Nancy Wong, Marketing Director for VanDusen, agrees. “Last year I was approached by a guest who said, ‘I’m from Manhattan, visiting family here for the holidays and I want to tell you what a very special event this is. I’ve never seen anything like it. What really impresses me is the range of people who are here—every age group, every ethnic background, from different strata of society—all mixing here and enjoying the event and having fun together. You’d never see that in New York.’ I think that lady said it all. I was so shocked that in a city like New York, there was not one event that attracted every community like Festival of Lights does here.”
The VanDusen Festival of Lights runs every night from December 10 – January 2 (except Christmas day) from 4:30 p.m. – 9 p.m. You can buy tickets in advance at the Garden Shop at VanDusen (a good way to avoid the lineups) or at the gate. Adult admission is $13, seniors and youth are $9.50, children 6-12 are $7.25 and kids under 6 are free.
As VanDusen Botanical Garden’s largest fundraiser, the admission proceeds from the Festival of Lights are a critical component in keeping the Garden growing for the coming year. Also consider picking up a Garden membership or two (they make great Christmas gifts) while you’re there.