By Eric Wilson-Edge
As a kid I always wanted my parents to decorate our house with thousands of lights. They never did. Our house had a few modest strands, some fake candy canes and a tree. Now that I’m older I understand why they never went overboard. Lights are expensive and putting them up is time consuming. Then there’s the endless untangling of gangly wires and the fruitless search for that one bulb which isn’t working properly.
Don’t get me wrong. I love Christmas. The gifts are nice but unnecessary. I enjoy the pageantry, the feeling of warmth that comes from multicolored electricity. I simply refuse to let my desire to celebrate kill my Christmas spirit. So, I go in search of that childhood fantasy.
I found it.
The Christmas Wonderland in Shelton sits on five acres of joyful glee. There are more than 60 inflatable displays and 60,000 lights. Stephen Spring is the owner and operator. He does most of the building, stringing and designing himself. “The last two months I’ve been working pretty much every day,” says Spring.
I crunch up the gravel to a miniature house. An animatronic Santa is asleep in his bed. A couple of kids laugh at the big red elf’s robust snoring. I think Santa has a deviated septum. I spot him again further down the path. This time he’s being helped out of a chimney by a reindeer. The effort isn’t going well. Santa gets about halfway out then slips back down. The kids think it’s hilarious. One expresses concern. She says “uh-oh” each time the rescue attempt backfires.
Spring first opened the Wonderland 11 years ago. “My buddy down the road said ‘you know you’ve got so much property here and you’re good at decorating you can make a whole Christmas park,’” recounts Spring.
Spring worked a few seasons and then closed down to go back to graduate school. After that he took a job in Westport. He rededicated himself to the park three years ago. “I’m very creative,” says Spring. “I hope for the rest of my life I can just create.”
There is a lot to see, including a turkey. Spring rescued the bird before it could become Thanksgiving dinner. There used to be reindeer but they were too expensive to keep. Spring takes out his laser pointer. A tiny red dot pricks the darkness. This is where a lighted boat parade will be next year. Another dot showcases the place Spring has set aside for carolers.
This place is the manifestation of my Christmas imagination. There are lights set to music, nativity scenes and aliens. The aliens have their own UFO. I know it sounds bizarre but it’s really no weirder than a guy creeping into your house at night to give you presents.
The Christmas Wonderland isn’t as pristine as Zoolights and that’s part of the charm. You’ll see a few burned out bulbs and displays in progress. The Wonderland is neither fantasy nor illusion. It’s one man’s commitment to awe and awe doesn’t have to be perfect.
The Christmas Wonderland is open every day from 4:30pm to 10:00pm. Admission is $6 for adults, $4 for kids 4-17 and free for kids 3 and under. Make sure to bring a GPS or print driving directions because it can be hard to find.
Thrifty Thurston highlights inexpensive family fun in Thurston County. The weekly series focuses on family-friendly activities throughout our community. If you have a suggestion for a post, send us a note at firstname.lastname@example.org. For more events and to learn what’s happening in Olympia and the surrounding area, click here.