Saturday, April 20, 2024

Town Hall, Founders Park transforming for ‘Leland in Lights’

Zoe Howard (left) and Kathy Sveda, lighting artists with Patriot Illumination, string lights around a tree in Founders Park ahead of Leland in Lights. (Port City Daily photo/Johanna Ferebee)

LELAND — Leland Parks and Recreation Department is going all out for Christmas.

This year, the town is doubling its holiday display in the recently-renamed Founders Park. Three miles of lights are being strung, and with parks and rec employees doubling as Santa’s elves, Santa’s workshop is arriving in Town Hall to prepare for a family-friendly spectacle.

“We really wanted to step our game up,” Parks and Recreation director Wyatt Richardson said.

Leland in Lights

With the help of a $30,000 grant from the Leland Tourism Development Authority, the department is gearing up to host “a day of Christmas in Leland,” which culminates with its annual Tree Lighting event.

Festivities begin Saturday morning at the Leland Cultural Arts Center for the Holiday Art Market. The market will stay open between 10 a.m. and 3 p.m., featuring art from 43 vendors working with a variety of mediums.

This year will be the town’s third year hosting the art market, and given the event’s increasing popularity, the town had to turn down half of the vendor applicants because of its venue size.

After an afternoon break, the town will host its main event at 6 p.m. Santa and Mrs. Clause will make a grand entrance down Town Hall Drive to light the tree on Town Hall Steps, accompanied by the North Brunswick High School Chorus.

When the Clauses light the tree, the entire park will light up in unison revealing the work that’s been underway for weeks. By 6:30 p.m., Town Hall will open as Santa’s Workshop, which, if you’ve seen the movie “Elf,” should look familiar.

“We have really tried to make it look like Gimbels store as best we can,” Richardson said. “So, fully decked out with displays and lights, fake snow, it truly feels like you’re in Santa’s workshop.”

Kids can meet Santa, get a candy cane, have their photo taken, and pick out a small gift in Town Hall — for free. In Founders Park, a trackless train can take kids and parents for a tour around the light displays, where reindeer and polar bears will offer prime photo ops, and singing trees are sure to entertain.

Last year, the town partnered with the Unity Group of North Brunswick for the first time to provide road closures and staff assistance for its long-running parade. This spring, the town opted to not renew its partnership contract with the group after the group informed the town it intended to plan the event on its own.

In September, the group announced it didn’t have enough resources to put on the event. Richardson said he hopes to direct volunteers toward the group so that community partners can organize a parade next year.

The town hopes the event will attract people from all over the county and across the river. The tree lighting event attracted about 250 people last year with chilly and rainy weather. This time around, with the beefed-up displays, Richardson hopes the town can double turnout.

Light displays will remain in Founders Park throughout the holidays, so if you miss out on the big event, there are plenty of opportunities to see Leland in lights.

“It’s spectacular,” Richardson said.

Patriot Illumination light artists Kathy Sveda(left) and Zoe Howard string lights around the trunk of a tree in Founders Park to prepare for Leland in Lights. (Port City Daily photo/Johanna Ferebee)

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