One of the highlights on my Christmas calendar is the Emperors Palace Garden of Lights. If the three wise men from the east were guided to the Christ child by a star then I am drawn to the East (Rand) in search of the spirit of Christmas, albeit a very secular Christmas, American style sans the snow but with all the Goodwill and Peace for which one could ever wish. Christmas lights are very much part of the Christmas Season in my mind and memory (anyone else remember being taken to see the lights in Joubert Park each year?) Well, the same magic is now available at Emperors Palace.
This year I invited my niece and her family to join me at the opening of this literally sparkling event. This mother of twins is getting the hang of attending events with three year old twins in tow because she phoned in advance to check what she needed to bring. A gift for the underprivileged? Not a requirement although there is a collection point. Gifts for her own children from Santa? No, none of the children get gifts from Santa – he’s just taking polite requests for Christmas morning. Then they can have a candy cane from the tree. A camera? Yes, this is a must. An umbrella for possible rain and a blanket for the family to sit on if it is dry. Fortunately this event was blessed with clear skies, even if the weather was unseasonably chilly.
The wow factor as the lights go on is amazing. Just before the great switch on we are given statistics about how many kilometers of lights there are (a lot) and how many visitors visited the Garden of Lights last year (over 160000 dedicated visitors through the Garden of Lights entrance plus at least 15000 more people who entered from the Casino or Hotel). I learn that 14 500 people visited the Garden of Lights on Christmas Eve alone. Then the lights go on and the magical tour through an enchanted space begins.
My delight in the lights extends to watching the development of this Garden of Lights over the seven years this event has been held. While the lights are substantially the same every year, Emperors Palace are constantly adding to the lights, redesigning the garden, keeping things fresh. The walkways are now covered in an attempt to protect the garden from the effect nearly 200 000 expected visitors in one month is going to have on the permanent garden. The perimeter this year is marked with new blue lights – a welcome sight in the garden, if not on roads. Also new are the sweetest mushrooms, but the most exciting new thing is a giant tree which is programmed to display various colours to complement the Christmas music it plays. The music was muted on opening night as other Christmas music played. The original tree of lights is now at the main entrance/exit of the casino. Of the new things this year I like the mushrooms the best. I think of the little plaster mushrooms illuminated by a light shining on them from my childhood and I just know that those mushrooms are going to be every bit as memorable and precious to the latest generation of tots as the ones I have stored in my head are to me.
The children have a great time. On arrival at the registration desk the young people are given the most beautiful Christmas stockings filled with sweets and juice and crisps. They spurn dinner in favour of the sweets. They watch their first ballet – the Johannesburg Youth Ballet – and they are absolutely entranced. They dance around afterwards, more keen than ever to do ballet for themselves. They travel through the lights, meet Father Christmas and his elf, pausing for a photograph and a candy cane. By the end of the evening they are on a sugar high. What a wonderful experience this has been for them. They have been allowed to burn off energy and enjoy themselves and make new friends. What a fabulous family event! Part of what made it so fabulous was the spirit of goodwill exhibited by the “dress up” employees for the event. The Christmas trees and the Santa’s helpers and the Prince/Butler (or whatever he was meant to be) didn’t simply stand by and look put out when one of the children/parents wanted them to pose for a photograph. These young people actively reached out and engaged with the children, encouraging them to participate and to articulate their thoughts on the event. That takes a lot more trouble to do than simply to stand there, and the effort did not go unnoticed.
I am always enchanted by the lights. I am a child at heart and I love this Christmas event more than any other. I encourage parents to take their children to this wonderful place. Make it a grand event and join with their cousins and other families. Take the children to dinner inside the casino or simply enjoy the hot dogs, candyfloss and ice creams in the Garden of Lights itself. Build precious memories which will last forever. This event is free (well, apart from the merchandising) and it is well worth the time and effort. It runs until 5 January 2014.
Every evening from 19:00 to 22:00 at Emperors Palace Hotel and Casino, 64 Jones Road, Kempton Park from 6 December 2013 until 5 January 2014. Enjoy!