Fewer candles, but more candlepower at holiday event
Brookgreen Gardens’ popular holiday event started with 1,000 candles, naturally. That increased over the years to 5,000 candles.
There are now about 2,800 candles on display this year for Nights of a Thousand Candles, which opens Friday.
“It was just getting to be a lot,” said Jon McGann, who supervises Brookgreen’s exhibits team. “We used to have the luminary candles along the sidewalk, not only for ambiance, but for safety. On a rainy night, the sidewalks would be dark.”
Luminaries are now electric, and permanent lighting has been added. With the advent of LED lights, the display has continued to grow.
Two popular attractions that were canceled last year due to the pandemic have returned: the lighting of the Christmas tree and an indoor exhibit.
Five decorated cypress trees at the Leonard Pavilion near the Wall Lowcountry Center will be lit every night at 6:45.
The five trees replace the 80-foot Chinese fir that used to be lit every year. That practice stopped in 2020 because of concerns about the number of people who gathered every night for the lighting ceremony.
Brookgreen staff also believed the Chinese fir needed a break from the stress of supporting hundreds of lights.
The indoor exhibit, “Treasured Holiday Memories,” is in the Rosen Galleries and features Christmas trees, period ornaments and vintage toys and trains.
Along with the indoor trains, there is an outdoor G-scale train display near the Welcome Center.
One of the most popular spots, according to McGann, is Live Oak Alleé.
“It’s so grand, it’s so massive, it’s so dramatic,” McGann said.
Brookgreen has seen an increase in fall weddings because of the lights in Live Oak Alleé, McGann added.
Another popular spot is the children’s garden.
“They love the colors, they love the design, they love the snow machine that we do in there,” McGann said.
McGann said the children’s garden display is the best ever.
“It’s just grander, it’s very cool,” McGann said. “I hope people enjoy looking at it from all different angles. I love looking at things from less obvious angles, [like] from across the gardens.”
A display of wine bottles at the back of the garden that was part of this year’s “Summer Light: Art By Night” event remains in place.
McGann said that was one of the most popular exhibits of the summer event.
“That looked great this summer, it worked out well,” McGann said. “It was a great idea and it stood the test of time throughout the year.”
Although the lights start going up in September, McGann and his crew put the finishing touches on the exhibit last Friday in advance of the annual preview on Saturday night.
“I try my best throughout this whole process to put us in a great position this last week,” McGann said. “The planning and the logistics and the organizing is just as important as putting up lights and putting out the candles.”
McGann is one of about 10 employees who work full-time on Nights of a Thousand Candles. He also gets assistance from volunteers, who logged about 1,200 hours this fall working on the exhibit.
“It’s a huge effort,” McGann said. “It takes so many people to put this together.”
After working at Brookgreen for 14 years, McGann still gets excited about working on Nights of a Thousand Candles, and attends each night during the event.
“I hear all the comments, I hear all the compliments,” McGann said. “I appreciate it, it means a lot to me, it means a lot to the group.”
For more information, including a full entertainment schedule, or to purchase tickets, visit brookgreen.org.
Tickets are non-refundable and must be purchased in advance for a specific night.
If you go
What: Nights of a Thousand Candles
Where: Brookgreen Gardens
When: Nov. 26-28, Dec. 2-5, 9-12, 16-19 and 29-31, Jan. 1-4.; 4-9 p.m.
Tickets: $30 for adults ($25 for members); $15 for ages 4-12 ($12 for members) at brookgreen.org