Let’s celebrate! Decorate! Put up lights and trees and have a happy holiday! Well of course, it’s Christmas! I’m into it!
For we need a little Christmas
Right this very minute,
Candles in the window,
Carols at the spinet.
Yes, we need a little Christmas
Right this very minute.
It hasn’t snowed a single flurry,
But Santa, dear, we’re in a hurry;
So climb down the chimney;
Put up the brightest string of lights I’ve ever seen.
Slice up the fruitcake;
It’s time we hung some tinsel on that evergreen bough.
(We need a Little Christmas, from Mame)
WHOA Rudolf! We’re kinda taking off with the festivities without asking some important questions. Like: What is my place (nature center? national park? Historic site?) What is my resource? What is my message?, and, How do lights and reindeer and sleighs and mangers and angels and other Christmas things fit here? Clearly the answer is found in another question: How does it enhance the mission and purpose of your site? (and that mission is NOT merely to attract people.)
Do you have a Christmas program or event that celebrates the holidays while celebrating experiences at your site? Here are a couple of mine.
In a past life I was a choral director, so I feel the right music fits nicely in lots of places. I visited a nature center n North Carolina a few years ago and the building was filled with wonderful symphonic music that lifted both indoors and outdoors to new heights. The combination was electric, moving and memorable. In Arkansas, one mountaintop state park partners with the local university orchestra to present ‘Brass in the Clouds,’ wonderful music on the edge of the mountain with a view (or clouds) stretching as far as you can see. Again, the combination of music and setting creates a remarkable, memorable, and appropriate experience.
Another state park I know hosts ‘Caroling in the Forest,’ in which park staff lead visitors in singing Christmas carols as they walk park trails or ride a hay wagon through the park, ending with hot cocoa and roasting marshmallows over an open fire. This is a very popular and memorable night in the park.
These examples use music as a means to connect place and experience. Someone once said that words are intellect and music is emotion. The combination is remarkable, especially when you add the element of a special park or historic site. (‘Grandma Got Run Over By A Reindeer’ echoing through your nature center probably won’t create the same effect.)
The difference is remembering that the point of a park, nature center or historic site is the resource, the story, the deeper meanings of the place. You always have two choices – create experiences that engage the visitor with the resource, or detract from the resource. ‘Caroling in the Forest’ takes place within the forest while walking in the forest at night – an experience people seldom experience. ‘Brass in the Clouds’ is about being on the mountain and seeing the view, and letting the rise and fall of the music lift emotions and heighten the experience of being in that special place.
What about the trend of creating light shows or driving through now-popular ‘light-oramas’? I have an opinion and you may not like it – don’t. But why? What’s the difference? It’s all celebrating the fun of Christmas and attracting people to your site, so what’s the beef? Numbers equal success and this generates numbers! (I’ll save that discussion for another time.) The difference is that a light-orama could take place anywhere, even in a parking lot (and they often do), so your place is not important. With the intense focus on lighted scenes, your wonderful ‘place,’ your meaning, and your message quickly disappear in the glare. Discussion following a light-orama is not about the park or historic site, but about the lights. In the interest of following a hot trend and merely attract people you have detracted from your place, not enhanced it. The memory people will take away (and for many this will be their ONLY memory of your site) has nothing to do with what you really are. You have failed them and yourself.
I agree with Bill Shakespeare, To thine own self be true! In this case, to your site be true. Remember why your site exists and adapt seasonal events to your mission, purpose and resources so that the real meaning of your site shines brightly in your visitor’s memories.
Do you have a Christmas program or event that celebrates the holidays while celebrating experiences at your site? I’d like to hear about them.
Oh, one of my favorite Christmas songs is The Meaning of Christmas. I think you’ll like it.