Walking (and Gathering) in a Winter Wonderland
Gathering Place's Winter Wonderland is holiday magic
It's barely December, and already Joss and I have helped select a cut-your-own Christmas Tree at Prairie Pines Christmas Tree Farm (in Wichita), attended both Tulsa Botanic Garden's Garden of Lights and Philbrook Festival, run into Santa waiting for a photo shoot at Ida Red downtown, browsed the annual Kendall-Whittier Pop-Up Shops as well as the ultimate Christmas shop, Adorn Tulsa (thanks for the tip, Jen Kerckhoff!) and---our latest adventure--Gathering Place's inaugural Winter Wonderland!
In case you're wondering, this weekend (if the weather cooperates at all) we are hoping to go to Retro Den's Alliday Show and Tulsa Ballet's The Nutcracker--and again, for the curious--a large part of the reason we are able to attend so many events has to do with sweet, sweet job perks, and not because we have unlimited funds to spend on building Christmas memories. But guess what? Even though we were invited to Gathering Place's Winter Wonderland as part of a media tour, it is free for everyone, just like the park! Bring some extra money if you want to want to purchase food/drinks, shop the holiday market or decorate a cookie (for $2), but just enjoying the entertainment and lights is free of charge.
Two views of the Lodge Christmas Tree
One thing you should know as I describe this, is that we visited on Saturday night. Winter Wonderland will be open nightly through December 30, but certain activities mentioned in this post such as the train, holiday market, strolling entertainment, etc., will be primarily available Fridays-Sundays and Christmas week.
Stilts! I can't imagine standing around on stilts in the cold! But so lovely. (Photos by Joanna Shatwell)
What astounded me most from our media tour was learning that Gathering Place did not originally plan to have a large-scale holiday event this year--you know, because they've been busy with other park-opening things! However, as they thought about it, they realized that they had a great opportunity to start building a new holiday tradition in Tulsa, and ended up putting together the whole Winter Wonderland event in just 30 days!! Now, this wouldn't be such an accomplishment if it were a "meh" kind of event, but it's not: Winter Wonderland was designed to be a multi-sensory festival, complete with quality entertainment like carolers, jugglers, drummers and more, interactive activities (such as the cookie decorating and a train ride!), and of course the visible spectacle of lights running throughout the Adventure Playground. In short, it's a blast, and I can't believe they pulled it off in such a short amount of time!
Lights on the playground! The green tents are Holiday Market vendors, so you can see it's spread out throughout this part of the playground.
Our tour started off inside the Lodge, where you'll find a gorgeous Christmas tree and Santa! I was so happy to see that Santa was accompanied by Mrs. Claus, and the whole set up--by the tree, in front of the fireplace, surrounded by wrapped presents--was very cozy. Later, we also heard carolers inside the lodge, and a high school drum line just outside--plus, you can jump aboard the free Christmas Train circling outside the Lodge as well--so it is quite a hub of festive activity!
As you walk out the southern doors, we saw a lineup of old-fashioned carts selling hot chocolate and other warm beverages as well as sugar cookies to decorate. This was also a hub of fun activity, as across the sidewalk was an artist spray painting a large canvas and two elfin jugglers. Continuing through the lights, we walked towards the mirror maze, where a couple of elves darted in and out between the mirrors, played duck, duck goose with a group of children and making themselves available for some fun photo ops. This area is right next to the Gather Round stage, from which later on we heard some live Christmas music.
A group of carolers stood on bridge between the Fairyland Forest and the Towers, so we got to listen to Christmas carols, while a hoop dancer engaged with families below. Then, walking into the tower portion of the Adventure Playground, we saw the European-style holiday market, featuring local vendors. As you can see in the photos, the towers themselves are decorated with lights and wreaths, transforming the entire area. Oh, and I shouldn't forget: Snow! In case we get a lamentable lack of snow this winter (ok, that would really be fine with me, but I know some people enjoy a white Christmas!), Gathering Place has installed a snow machine over the courtyard below the towers, which can be turned on as needed :)
Jugglers, Carolers and More! (Photos by Betty Casey)
Parking may still be an issue, and it really was pretty busy the night we were there! So make sure you check out gatheringplace.org or follow Gathering Place on Facebook to get the shuttle schedule, which should still be running from South Riverside on the weekends.