Conceived in 1987, the Wonderland of Lights Festival rivals the best Christmas lighting events in the country. Know as the “Granddaddy of Texas Lighting Festivals” the event attracts more 100,000 visitors to see the 10 million lights and over 400 attractions that adorn the city.
The Historic Harrison County Courthouse is the center stage of events as visitors are enthralled with the synchronize light and music shows that begin each evening at 6 PM during the festival. Steve & Penny Carlile and Celebrating Home, sponsors of the music and light program, have assisted with creating the only known show on an active courthouse in America. Each presentation includes nearly 250,000 pulsating LED lights from the windows, pillars, and dome. The show can be viewed from all four sides of the courthouse with the best view on the north side where seating is provided.
Exciting activities abound in Wonderland with one of the most popular attractions being the Samsung outdoor ice rink, located next to the county courthouse. As one of the many featured attractions, skaters can enjoy 60 minutes of skating under the stars and viewing the courthouse show. A one-hour skate session cost $10.00 plus tax with skates included in the fee.
In the area adjacent to the courthouse is Telegraph Park where a free music show is presented each evening at 7:10 PM. Holiday Traditions, a show produced by local Mary Smith Beal brings music of past holidays to the stage in this production presented by Network Solutions and Band Stand Music & Unique Boutique. It was conceived just for the Wonderland of Lights Festival. Also in Telegraph Park is the city Christmas tree, the main ticket booth, and food and merchandise stands.
For children, wonderful memories are created when they stop to see Santa and Mrs. Claus in Santa’s Workshop presented by Sam Baxter, McKool Smith. (Of course, Santa does close the workshop just before Christmas.) Each child can make a train and decorate a cookie before telling Santa their wishes. Next door to Santa’s Workshop is the depot for the Marshall Express Train – a mini trackless train providing rides around the square to delight of young children.
Everything is bigger in Texas as most Texans will tell you that Snowflake, the giant wooden rocking horse is no exception. Standing over 12 feet tall and almost 20 feet from tail to nose, Snowflake is big. Accommodating up to five riders at a time, this is a picture perfect moment for adults to recall their youthful days or for children to be able to brag about their riding adventure.
Music in Wonderland continues each evening at 8:15 PM as Christmas Staircase Harmony is performed inside the Weisman Center. Local entertainers have joined to blend their voices for an upbeat and delightful holiday presentation of favorite holiday songs. The show, free of charge, lasts 40 minutes allowing visitors time for a warming holiday beverage.
For kids and the young at heart, returning attractions include the Wonderland Mountain that stands 32 feet high with a five second slide to the bottom. Underneath the mountain is the bounce tunnel where the fun almost never ends. Next to the mountain is the Polar Challenge. As an interactive obstacle course, each rider can challenge themselves or their best friend as those from the North Pole would also try.
The lights of Marshall are really something to see and visitors have three options to do so each evening. A horse drawn carriage ride along the street of dreams, by the courthouse, and other downtown lights provides a romantic time to snuggle close as the clip clop sounds of the champion pulling the carriage. Warm blankets are provided by Griggs Enterprise/McDonald’s to offset any of the cool night air. The carriage stop is just north of Telegraph Park.
Enjoy an English double-decker bus ride presented by Marshall Ford-Lincoln as your pick of the evening light tour transportation. The bus will take you on a narrative ride of the magnificent displays in the Washington Square District of downtown Marshall. Sit on top on or on the lower level to see the multitude of animated lights, large displays and, of course, the locomotive at the T & P Depot.
Grandparents, parents, and all the kids can climb aboard the lighted hayride wagon as it circles the square to see the courthouse and many of the light displays. Both the double-decker bus and the hayride loading stations are at North Washington and Rusk.
Many specials shows, entertainment, and exhibits will be occurring during the 35 evenings and Saturdays during the festival.
In its’ 61st year, the Marshall Symphony will provide the music for area vocalists to present the festival’s Samsung Holiday Celebration show on November 27. Beginning at 5:30 PM, the Harrison County Courthouse will be the background for the opening festivities. At 6:13 PM, thousands of visitors at the show and thousands viewing it on live TV coverage will see the 250,000 lights turn on for the first time of 2013. Then, the first Celebrating Home light and music show for 2013 will begin at 6:30 PM.
On Tuesday, December 3, the Wonderland of Lights Festival run presented by Good Shepherd Medical Center – Marshall, offers runners of all speeds and all ages the opportunity to explore the lights in the downtown area. Nearly 350 runners are expected to attend this nighttime event. Advance registration is $15.00 for adults for either the 5K fun run or the one mile fun run. $12.00 is the fee for children for either activity.
10,000 spectators viewed the nearly 125 entries in the East Texas Baptist University’s Lighted Christmas Parade last year and even more are anticipate for the Saturday, December 7 parade. Beginning at 5:30 PM, the parade begins on the south side of the courthouse on Washington, turns onto Wellington, across Burleson Street and returns on Washington towards the courthouse area. The total route is one and half miles with an expected parade time to take one and half hours from beginning to end.
A special treat for all children is Santa’s arrival at the T & P Depot on Saturday, December 7. There is reading time, cookies and time with Santa as he leaves the reindeer at home to ride the train into Marshall. There is no charge for the participants but a ticket is required.
The Wonderland of Lights Festival’s newest activities begin at noon on Saturdays. Each of the five Saturdays will feature live music on the Telegraph Park stage, exhibits and demonstrations. The first Saturday, November 30 is designated for bicycle enthusiasts. Courses have been designated for the beginning biker to the avid and physical fit with 10 mile, 20 mile, and 40 mile routes. The holiday bike tour will start at 12:30 PM in Telegraph Park with a post-race party beginning at 4:30 PM on the porch of Under The Texas Sun.
On December 14 (the second Saturday) a decorated car show will be lining the streets of downtown Marshall. There is no entry fee for participates but cash prizes will be awarded for best decorated and best themed cars. Car shows have been a tradition during most of the second Saturdays in downtown Marshall and December will be a highlighted car event for the festival.
Dance troops, high school bands, church choirs, and other entertainment will be scheduled on each of the five Saturdays during the festival.
East Texas Baptist University, the new owner of the The Marshall Grand Hotel, is providing free of charge souvenir Christmas photos inside the hotel on selected dates during the festival – Friday and Saturday evenings from 6 PM until 9 PM on November 29, 30, December 2,7,13,14 and 15.
Many of the festival’s activities are free for visitors to enjoy. This includes the Celebrating Home light and sound show on the courthouse, the nightly music show on Telegraph Park presented by Network Communications. Samsung Holiday Celebration show, the music show in the Weisman Center, and the self-drive through light tour.
Admission tickets are required for the rides and attractions. The best value is the Village-All-In-One ticket. This ticket, at $29.95 plus tax allows the visitors to unlimited rides on all of the attractions including the Marshall Mountain, Polar Challenge, Samsung Ice Skating sessions, double-decker bus tours, and the Wonderland Hayride. (Carriage rides are not included.) Other limited and individual tickets are available and range from $4.00 to $15.00. Admission tickets can be purchased on this website under the Wonderland of Lights Menu at the top, or at any of the three ticket booths/locations that are open during the festival. Admission tickets can also be purchased daily at the Visitors Center located at 301 N. Washington. Further assistance is provided by the Marshall Convention & Visitors Bureau by calling 903-702-7777.