By Summer Stevens, The Coastland Times
There’s no better way to get into the holiday spirit than to stroll through 10 acres of WinterLights at The Elizabethan Gardens on Roanoke Island.
The 13th annual event is bigger and brighter than ever before, with the Sunken Garden fully illuminated for the first time. Gardner-artists have decorated the grounds with hundreds of thousands of lights and unique displays that appeal to every taste and style.
On November 28, The Elizabethan Gardens hosted Virginia Dare Night, inviting local residents to attend the event for free with the donation of non-perishable food for the Roanoke Island Food Pantry. Almost 2000 pounds of food were donated, plus monetary contributions.
A total of 1226 residents attended Virginia Dare night, and Elizabethan Gardens staff anticipate that about 12,000 people will visit throughout the season.
Each year, WinterLights has a different look and feel. Rather than concentrating on the number of lights, Gardens director Theresa Armendarez said “the focus has been on showcasing the Gardens’ beautiful setting and trees.”
Said Armendarez, “One of our guests said that he’d attended WinterLights for 10 years and this was the best year ever.”
The towering oak trees glow brightly. One large tree features dozens of strands of lights hanging down. Others are wrapped tightly with lights from trunk to twig. The “12 Days of Christmas” lane brings forth spontaneous snippets of song and laughter as families struggle to remember each stanza.
A fire is blazing, warming all who pass. Volunteers offer marshmallows to roast to guests young and old (along with wet wipes for the inevitable sticky fingers).
Visitors enjoy a variety of scenes in the Gardens, offering plenty of Christmas-card worthy photo ops: a giant snowman bench with snowflakes illuminated all around, as well as Father Christmas greeting children in his glorious velvet-trimmed suit with golden embroidery and hat adorned with greenery and holly berries.
There are beautifully decorated Christmas trees and illuminated miniature villages, a play area for children and seasonal plants and gifts available in the gift shop.
The event runs Tuesdays to Sundays through December 30 from 6-9 p.m. Tickets are sold online only. Visit elizabethangardens.org for a more information and for a schedule of live entertainment offered.