Most people take a Sunday afternoon to set up their Christmas lights.
It took Brian Zimmerman eight weeks.
“I started the second weekend in October this year,” said the Kitty Coleman Woodland Gardens owner on Monday evening, after turning them on for the season. “They will be on every evening now through to December 26.”
Zimmerman has lights strung throughout his garden – nothing overbearing; just enough to light the pathway that weaves its way though his 3,500-plus rhododendrons.
How many lights are there?
“Ohh… a lot,” said Zimmerman. “I wouldn’t even venture a guess. I will say take down fewer and fewer every year. But I had to replace 40 strings of LED lights this year. They say they last for 100,000 hours. I can tell you that’s not true.”
Visiting the property at 6183 Whitaker Road has become as much of a Christmas tradition for some Comox Valley families as turkey and eggnog. And, although the property is now up for sale, Zimmerman said he couldn’t let the holiday season pass without doing his festive duty.
“I have had a lot of calls from people asking whether or not I was going to be open this year. When I say ‘yes’ they are always so grateful.”
It has become one of the favourite places for kids to have their pre-Christmas chat with Santa and that tradition resumes on Saturday, with Santa’s first public appearance at Woodland Gardens for this season. Santa’s Barn will be open to the public every Saturday and Sunday 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. from now until Christmas. Of course, he has also set aside some time at the gardens for school field trips.
“We even have the base coming out for a special day, for the families of military members who are being deployed, and the ones who are returning,” said Zimmerman. “We’ve been doing that for the last four years.”
He said that crowds will build from now until Christmas, with the most popular time being the week before, when the carol walks with the Cantiamo Chamber Ensemble happen. The garden stroll will have carol “stations” at regular intervals – “five or six stations, depending on how many singers there are” – for people to enjoy the sounds of the season while they wander along the path.
This year marks the 25th anniversary of Santa’s Barn, and Zimmerman has had the lit garden stroll each of the past 16 years. He’s seen some memorable things in the past quarter century, but one incident sticks out.
“I remember one time a couple of years ago, there was an older lady on the walk and she had a bum knee and she blew it out on a pass coming down a hill,” said Zimmerman. “So some people come running up to the house to get me. So I grabbed a wheelbarrow and I go running down the path going [making siren sounds] all the way. We lifted her into the wheelbarrow – it had some blankets in it … she was laying on her back, in the wheelbarrow, just laughing away as we wheeled her back down the path. We wheeled her right to her car. The whole family was just rolling [in laughter].”
At 74 years old, Zimmerman can’t say how many more years he’ll continue with his Christmas show, but as long as he’s here, he can’t say no.
“It’s a tradition for a lot of families,” he said. “It’s so enjoyable. It’s just one of those things. It’s a really nice outing for people, for sure.”