By Eva Mandelbaum
A coruscating light show, characters from Star Wars to the Grinch to Santa Claus, a Christmas tree, and an artificial (but realistic) snowstorm. All of this excitement can take place from the comfort of your car, with the people you feel safest.
COVID-19 has taken a lot away from us, but it cannot damper the holiday spirit, in part thanks to Westchester’s Winter Wonderland: a holiday (drive-through) experience like no other.
Winter Wonderland is an event held at the Kensico Dam Plaza. It has been taking place since 2013, and in past years was filled with fun-filled activities and attractions. This is the first year it will be a drive-through event. Joe Stout, Executive Director of the Westchester Parks Foundation, shared that in the past, people would come to watch a circus show, visit Santa Claus, go on amusement rides, see the light show, and go ice skating. “We really felt that those things were not going to be able to be done in a socially distant way,” Stout explained. “So we kind of pivoted to ‘ok what can we do?’ and the drive through I think is a really great compromise to continue to have this holiday...it has kind of become the go-to thing in Westchester for the holidays and now you get to stay in your own car with your own family or with people you know, you feel safe with as opposed to out in a big crowd somewhere.”
Although certain attractions and activities such as ice skating and a circus show will not be present this year, some new and exciting attractions exclusive to Winter Wonderland will take their place. “The whole thing is a light show - that's what you drive through, and there are different vignettes all across the 1.2 miles that you go by,” Stout explains. “And we have some really unique features. We have a 50 foot dove, we have a 100 foot tall lighted tunnel that you drive through and under, you get to drive through an artificial snow storm that’s lit up; things you won't find in other places.” Despite the lack of interactive activities, there is no doubt that these new attractions will be exciting.
Some people may be wondering how all this will work, and how it will be COVID-safe. Even though you’re outside, it still is safer to be in the car, so there will be minimal interaction, other than driving through the event. The only legitimate interaction is when you check in. Your ticket gets scanned, before continuing on to drive through the event. There will not be food or drinks for sale or interactive activities this year, so there truly will not be a reason to get out of your car. “You’re in your own car. We are not really allowing people to get out of their own cars and stop. Any pictures that you take we’re telling folks that it’s not the driver. If there’s somebody else in the car they can take pictures,” Stout explained. There will be staff located throughout the route to keep things moving along so it doesn’t slow down too much, and to also make sure people don’t get out of their cars.
This event will not be exclusive to Christmas. There will be an area of the park near the Christmas tree that celebrates other cultures and winter holidays, including Hanukkah, Kwanza, and Diwali. Other cultures will be celebrated, and the light show is a Festival of Lights in itself.
As his final words, Stout shared that, “It’s really a unique event, there’s nothing like it around here. I think people are really going to be wowed by the scale and the volume of displays that you can come and see. And it’s very affordable, it’s safe, it’s by car not by person.”
The event will take place from November 27th through January 3rd, and tickets are on sale now. This holiday season, if you are looking for a family-friendly, exciting, but COVID-safe drive through event, this is the place for you!