Picture a cool, crisp December night, the kind that makes you snuggle in your jacket or coat a little more and pull your gloves on a little tighter, with air so clear the stars sparkle in the sky just like the lights on your Christmas tree. This is the perfect kind of evening for folks to enjoy a holiday stroll through Arnette Park at the third annual Christmas in the Park. The stars sparkling in the sky form a backdrop for the thousands of lights adorning the park during the two-week event.After only two years, Christmas in the Park is well on its way to being a holiday tradition for those who visit. It is the type of Christmas tradition that has just the right mix of music, blinking lights, hot chocolate and the laughter of children — and it’s a tradition that means a little more because it is right here in Fayetteville.
“We had the idea for many years,” said Erica Brady, special events coordinator with Fayetteville-Cumberland Parks and Recreation. “We decided the residents here in Cumberland County should have a place to go and enjoy Christmas lights and not have to drive far to see them. Each year it has grown and we have added something different.” During those two weeks, the park becomes a magical holiday walk with every turn revealing a new sight to bring a smile to the face of anyone taking the stroll along the pathway.
Brady says she has no idea how many lights they use to decorate the park, but she does know it takes awhile for the job to be complete. The park is decorated by the staff of the Parks and Recreation department. “We start setting up at the beginning of November. The staff enjoys the decorating and it is a time for our folks to be creative,” said Brady.
The path is one-half mile of winter wonderland, which includes displays along the way of gingerbread scenes, a toy land, toy soldiers, ice skaters and carolers. There is a 100-feet-long archway covered with oversized LED blubs, “When it is lit, it looks like the whole thing is chasing itself,” Brady said. A barn with mechanical reindeer is also a part of the growing event. A train ride will take you to a lighted section of the park that can’t be viewed from the walking path. David Nash, who visited the park last Christmas, said he was impressed with the lighted pathways and being able to take in all the lights. “It was nice to get out in the night air, slow down and just enjoy a part of the season.”
One of the main attractions is a set of dancing Christmas trees. A 30-feet-tall tree, six 16-feet trees and twelve 8-feet trees are synchronized to dance with music. As “Carol of the Bells” plays, the trees keep precise time to the music while lighting up the park in dramatic fashion with their green, red and clear lights. During “Jingle Bell Rock” the trees take on the look of a Christmas tree chorus line keeping up with the beat of the song. “The music is programmed in-house by one of our supervisors,” Brady said.
Children jump up and down to the music pointing their fingers at the musical site in front of them. What could be more delightful for a six-year-old? One thing could be that long awaited visit with Santa Claus. The jolly old elf also likes to see the lights at the park and makes an appearance every year. Children can visit St. Nick in his decorated house, sit on his lap and whisper their wishes to him while having their photo taken.
After a stroll through the lights and a visit with Santa, everyone in the family might have worked up an appetite. Brady said there is plenty of food for visitors, “We have hot dogs, hamburgers, funnel cakes and cotton candy.” A night out in the crisp December air would not be complete without sipping some rich hot chocolate. If the hot chocolate doesn’t warm up your toes, there is fire pit available for toasting marshmallows. Those who want to take a few minutes to rest can pop a warm, toasted, sweet treat into their mouths as marshmallows are sold on site. Resting visitors can also enjoy a large movie screen which shows a variety of 30-minute cartoons.
It’s not only a night of lights and hot chocolate; Cumberland County’s talent is on display through performances by local groups and musicians. “We invite the different recreation centers to ask those who are taking classes with them if they would like to perform. We have also invited area schools choruses to share their talent,” Brady said.
Children who visit don’t have to leave the magical night empty-handed. Under the picnic shelter children can make some lucky person a hand-made Christmas present, which might be an ornament in the shape of their hand or magnet photo frame. “The craft we have changes every night,” Brady said.
Watching children leave this night of wonderment, seeing them proudly clutch the gift they made or look back for one last view of the sparkling lights, is worth the trip. A night at Christmas in the Park is a night when simple, special Christmas memories are made, the ones everyone from the youngest to the oldest will keep with them for many years.
Christmas in Arnette Park Costs
$2 for admission $1 for each craft project $5 for Santa photo $1 per person for train ride $1 for stick for roasting marshmallows $1 for four marshmallows