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AC Winter Wonderlands!

Atlantic County Magazine – GACCA Article

Print Date 12.11.2020

By Judy Brenna

Well… here we are again. The most wonderful time of the year, they said. I would insert a Scrooge-esque quip or even an expletive here, but I will refrain. We’ve had a bit too much negativity this year, have we not? So much so I’m half expecting the clock to turn from 11:59 to 11:60 on New Year’s Eve and we’ll be stuck in the year 2020 forever. But! I digress. The most wonderful time of the year. The time of year when an adult is permitted and fully encouraged to wear “ugly” holiday themed garments and reindeer onesies, increase alcohol consumption, and thankfully also when Christmas calories don’t count. So, naturally it’s my absolute favorite time of year ((readjusting antler headband)). Yes, even this year, after EVERYTHING that has happened, there is absolutely no way we’re going to let a virus kill our holiday spirit. Not on my watch! I will go down ((more like crumbling)) fighting!

Granted, much like Halloween and Thanksgiving, the winter holidays during COVID, will look a bit different this year. As of December 7th, the Governor increased indoor gatherings to 25. So now your “up in the air” plans of inviting your great aunt who never got the memo about Jello molds being 40 years out of style, or your cousin, the Instagram Influencer ((what he actually influences you have no clue)) with over a million followers who takes any chance he can get on lecturing you on why it’s imperative we save the bees, all while filming Tik Tok videos ((a website you genuinely don’t understand the existence of)), is now all-systems-go. Which, by the way, bees ARE super crucial to our eco system. And it’s highly recommended that tree lightings, menorah lightings, and other holiday gatherings be held outdoors whenever possible. In addition, they are encouraging alternatives to visiting Santa at indoor locations, such as virtual visits or outdoor socially distanced visits/photos with Santa. If malls and other indoor locations still choose to offer in-person visits, it will likely be a touchless experience, visits will be reservation-only, and Santa, staff and guests over age 2 must wear masks. Another interesting twist, Santa will likely be behind a plexiglass shield in an open area, and children will not be permitted to sit on Santa's lap. What I wanted to suggest, however, are a couple places to check out that are, in my opinion, unique, and special.

First and foremost, has anyone driven by Storybook Land at night lately? I did last week and was literally jaw-dropped! When you pull up to it, you get that feeling, much like Clark W. Griswald got when his outside holiday lights finally came on and he heard a choir of angelic voices singing. Located in Egg Harbor Township, on Black Horse Pike, Storybook Land has been inspiring wonderment in children ((and adults reliving their childhood)) since 1955. While they will not be hosting their annual parade this year, children can still visit Mr. and Mrs. Claus until December 23, when it’s time for them to return to the North Pole and get mentally prepared for their Christmas run ((and since Santa will most likely have to wear a hazmat suit this year, he needs a little extra time to acclimate maneuvering the sleigh in all that bulk)). Like I warned earlier, this will be a socially distanced meeting, with plexiglass separation and face masks and all. But! All rides, attractions, and snack bars are also open during this time, so that makes it all the more worth it. And speaking of their display, Storybook Land will be featured this year in The Great Christmas Light Fight’s 8th season, airing on ABC on December 9th. Exciting stuff! Be sure to tune in!

Another awesome place to check out is Renault Winery Resort & Golf. Celebrating 156 years of vineyard hospitality, Renault is not only a New Jersey State Historical site, but also one of the oldest continuously operating wineries in the United States. Renault is a pretty majestic place, with gorgeous chateaus and beautiful landscaped lands and an impressive golf course, oh and the fact that they are rapidly becoming known as “The East Coast’s Premier Vineyard Wedding Destination”. I mean, we get it, they’re absurdly awesome, and I would ((shameless #opentowork plug)) kill to work there, but what’s extremely exciting, and what I’m here to talk about, is their “Vintner” Wonderland experience, with their very own skating rink, which is open now to the public through February 28th. Experience the all-new Outdoor Vintner Rink, designed for skaters of all ages and skill levels ((even people like me who coast around the perimeter of the rink, clutching onto the railing so hard my knuckles start bleeding)). Book now as prices may increase at the door and during peak holiday hours. Merchandise and concessions are readily available in the rink area for your convenience and there will always be great DJ music playing to whip you then keep you in the holiday spirit. It’s like being smacked, open-handed, in the face with holiday cheer! Be sure to go to their website, check out their skating calendar and reserve your tickets, because they’re selling fast.

And lastly, I highly recommend packing your people into your car and going on a neighborhood tour of light displays. There are two in particular I would suggest adding to your route, the families going above and beyond for the sole purpose of spreading the holiday love. One place to consider is the display at 15 Poplar Avenue in EHT. I love this place because if you tune to a certain station you can check out the light show and listen to the music perfectly timed to it. Another great place is The Yard Family Christmas Display, located at 4 E. Curran Drive in Absecon. I’ll never forget the first Christmas after I moved to NJ. I was out and about one evening with my friend Jessica and her Mom, Leslie, (also my friend) and someone (I can’t recall whom) said, “hey let’s go check out some lights!” So, we did and as we approached the house on Curran Drive, I remember thinking how completely intrusive I felt driving into someone’s neighborhood and gawking at their light display. The second thing I thought, after looking at how many people were gathering, was “why do they do this?”, not realizing I had said it aloud to which someone replied, “because it’s Christmas”. Having been guilty of using the phrase “because it’s Christmas” solely as an excuse to justify the cheesecake I shove down my throat or the absolutely ridiculous hat I choose to wear, this concept was a bit foreign to me ((then again so is the concept of being human sometimes)). These people spend countless hours perfecting their displays, all for the sake of spreading warmth and cheer, AND to boot they accept donations for local charities. In summation, these people are super stars. Because this is what it’s all about. Spreading love and togetherness. ((And cheesecake. Lots and lots of cheesecake.))

I think we could use some togetherness right about now. I mean not physically, because, you know, COVID, but we need this holiday and everything it stands for. So, if you can, take some time out of your busy schedule, and go check out some lights. And go donate some toys while you’re at it. And some food. And maybe some coats. You’ll be happier when you do. We’ll talk more about the donating stuff next week. Until then… #stayjerseystrong.

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