It will be snowing in Tyler this Christmas season — at least for a few hours a day, two weeks in December. Synthetic snow that's cold to the touch will rain down on an area of the East Texas Fairgrounds next month to authenticate the feeling of Christmas. It's just one of many re-creations set to appeal to the young and young at heart.
“It will be a treat for all the senses,” said Heather Pickett, director of presentation and development at The Park of East Texas.
John Sykes, president of The Park of East Texas, said they aim to get people in the Christmas spirit.
“There's always a wow factor with lights and music, and covering the full senses …” Sykes said. “It's a happy time. It's a respectful time. And I think the main thing about it is it's a family time.”
A crew is busy constructing a fantasy land on the 100-year-old fairgrounds and in its existing buildings. The 12 days of Christmas will be presented with life-size installations. A mammoth light display — a 40-feet tall, 120-feet wide ice palace — was among the first pieces erected.
A NEW TRADITION
“We wanted another event to bring the community together — not just Tyler but the community as a whole to have something fun, safe, wholesome, exciting whimsical to do,” Ms. Pickett said. “And what better time to do a family activity and outing than Christmas?
Planning for the holiday celebration has been in progress for a year, following an idea birthed during a fairs expo hosted by the International Association of Fairs and Expositions in Las Vegas. Park of East Texas officials have been ambitious in their plans and expect this to be an annual event.
“Our goal is for this to get bigger and bigger and become one of those family traditions you come to every year to see what's new and what's going to be different,” Ms. Pickett said.
Cities similar in size, and even smaller, have annual holiday celebrations that lead guests from around the country to their town. Marshall, for example, has its Wonderland of Lights Festival that is popular with East Texans.
Debra Newman, director of competitive events with The Park of East Texas, noted that while Tyler is joining other cities that have similar events, it won't overshadow what they are doing.
“We aren't trying to compete with Marshall,” she said. “We're different from Marshall. I think we'll complement each other and just offer some other things that people can do.”
Sykes added, “Marshall has a long tradition that we're not trying to interrupt at all. We want something here in Tyler that is spectacular.”
One building will house Santa's Workshop, which features the rich, warm colors of Christmas and shops for last minute gifts. There, children may get their photo taken with Santa.
The Mayfair Building will feature Snowflake Showcase, a venue for five performances from 5:30-9:30 p.m. by people from area school choirs and dance troupes. There will also be a Festival of Trees decorated by area nonprofit organizations and businesses. The trees and wreathes will be on sale and proceeds benefit nonprofit organizations and the Park of East Texas' scholarship fund.
Mrs. Claus' Kitchen will feature food by Newk's Café and a Poinsettia Post Office will be setup to drop off kids' wish lists to Santa.
At the Jingle Bell Jungle, visitors can create holiday music and experience the Polar Bear Cave and Penguin Slide designed for children, located in Peppermint Playhouse.
There will also be a Nativity scene with actors and live animals.
Not only will guests soak in the holiday environment of lights and music, but each area will also have a special distinction.
“Each building will have a signature smell,” Ms. Pickett said. “When you walk into each building, you will be enveloped in the theme and the excitement of that particular building.”
Ms. Pickett and Ms. Newman came up with theme, activities and schedule. Their vision is being molded by Tammy Peters, owner of the North Adams, Mass.-based North Pole Productions. The met Ms. Peters at the Las Vegas expo, where she gave a presentation about her work with drive-thru displays. She, along with a crew of five, was in town for two weeks to set up the large-scaled holiday display.
Ms. Peter's company was founded in 1998, providing commercial and residential outdoor lighting and decorating. It later evolved into more commercial work, and finally, building drive-thru parks during the holidays.
She has produced Branson, Missouri's Festival of Lights and many others around the country.
“At the end of the day I hope (people have) enjoyed their time at the fairgrounds, that they've begun a new family tradition of coming to the grounds and enjoying themselves; just the warm sense of family and the warm sense of Christmas,” Ms. Peters said.
Sykes praised The Park of East Texas' four-member team for tapping into childhood Christmas experiences to share with the community.
“One thing we do well is dream and think big,” he said. “But then we have to boil it all down and execute it. I think we have the best team anywhere around … There's an underlying eagerness in this community to really do first-class great things.”
With the cost of putting on the show reaching six figures and an estimated 200 volunteers stepping up to make it happen, the organizers hope the hard work will pay off in the future.
“Tyler is ready,” Sykes said. “Years from now, Tyler will be a place everyone will want to come in December.”