Butchart’s Brilliance

From Dec. 1 until Jan. 6, the gardens transform into a winter wonderland.

Butchart Garden's dazzling display of lights.

Christmas for Butchart Gardens begins in June.

It starts with a comment, advances to a conversation, and soon anyone with free hands is busy making bows and ribbons for the renowned holiday display and activities.

Come early October, Butchart’s staff is in full Christmas mode as gardeners begin to compete with electricians over who can install the most bulbs – one of the spring variety, the other of illumination.

“They’ve got a gazillion boxes of lights and Christmas decorations of all different kinds,” Graham Bell, public relations, explains. “There are people in cherry pickers, people that get out on the roofs.”

The outdoor ice rink starts to go up around the same time and is an ordeal all its own. Dump trucks of sand are brought into waterwheel square and made dead-level by surveyors. Cooling equipment is set up on top of the sand under a layer of waterproofing which is then flooded and refrigeration begins to take place.

“It takes a while. It’s a lot bigger than an ice cube tray in your fridge,” Bell quips.

By late November the hard work comes together and the display is ready for its public premiere at the light up Dec. 1. Then until Jan. 6, visitors can wander through the gardens, which have been transformed into a winter wonderland.

Passing through the entrance visitors are greeted with live Christmas music, from a brass band or choir, and the sight of the dazzling lights.

Continuing on through the vast garden, the music fades away and the quiet stillness of the winter night takes over, providing a magical atmosphere.

Areas such as the Sunken Garden are lit by thousands of bulbs, all in position to illuminate pathways and highlight the outlines of trees. As you stroll the paths you’ll inevitably catch fragments of people singing Christmas carols as they follow the 12 Days of Christmas displays.

“It’s not like walking through a shopping mall where you’re being bombarded by Christmas in some form or another,” Bell says. “It’s just a very pleasant, easy night to walk through with your friends and loved ones and just enjoy what Christmas is really all about.”

This is the 27th year for the popular attraction, which peaked in size when the display reached day 12 of the 12 Days of Christmas. It has remained an untouched tradition since.

“It’s tradition, and it’s long enough now that people who were brought through in strollers with their parents are now pushing their own kids through.”

The light up takes place Sunday, Dec. 1 at 5 p.m. with a short ceremony. Hours for the light display start at dusk and extend until 9 p.m. until Jan. 6.

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