Are Christmas light displays a highlight of the season’s magical allure for you? Do you make a point of finding out which streets in which towns reliably put up the most extravagant illuminated holiday decorations, and then go see them in person?
If you’re that kind of person, you’ve undoubtedly noticed in the past few years an upsurge in the number of “light parks” hosted as seasonal tourist attractions in various locations. In the mid-Hudson, Headless Horseman Haunted Attractions in Ulster Park has been shifting gears each December to a less-scary immersive experience called A Frosty Fest. More recently, those willing to travel farther afield have been drawn to wintry light attractions at the Bronx Botanical Gardens in Manhattan, and to several sites in Connecticut created by a German company called MK Illumination.
Marketed under the label of Lumagica, the MK attractions first appeared in Hückelhoven, Germany in 2018 and quickly spread to other European sites. For 2022, the company is organizing major light parks in 23 countries, including Denmark, Sweden, the UK, Japan, Canada and the US.
Lumagica also creates smaller installations for town squares, building lobbies, airports, train stations and festivals – all featuring sculptures made from strings of LED lights.
The big holiday displays each have a theme. Enchanted Forest is this year’s offering at Harvest Moon Farm & Orchard in the Westchester County town of North Salem, for example. Last year, Harvest Moon became the first farm to host a Lumagica holiday light park in the US.
This year, a new farm site has been added to the list – the first one in the mid-Hudson region: Stone Ridge Orchard at 3012 Route 213 in Stone Ridge, a little southeast of Route 209. The attraction, dubbed Winter Garden, was unveiled at Stone Ridge Orchard on November 18 and will be open most nights through January 3.
Your hosts describe this attraction as “… a walking tour through a magical garden. A deep freeze has swept into the garden at Stone Ridge. You can help Zinnia, the colorful hummingbird, restore the color and life to the garden. As you make your way through, remember to make a wish with the shooting stars.”
The trail is about a half-mile in length, over uneven terrain and rutted farm roads with wet spots. It requires at least 45 minutes to view at a leisurely strolling pace, allowing plenty of stops for photography. Comfortable walking shoes, preferably hiking boots, are strongly encouraged.
All the Lumagica light parks are site-specific in design, and the layout for Winter Garden takes advantage of the varying viewscapes offered by the orchard’s rolling hillsides – not to mention the trees: The sculptural centerpiece of Zinnia the hummingbird and a delicate cluster of fluffy dandelions is positioned at the base of a majestic 360-year-old white oak, itself bathed in a floodlight whose colors gradually change.
Existing farm structures are incorporated into the layout of the light displays. Thus, some of the sculptures are freestanding, such as the family groupings of foxes, deer, swans and penguins (not to mention a 14-foot-tall moose this five-foor-seven-inch reporter didn’t need to duck to pass under), while other patterns of lights are held aloft by tree trunks and branches, tunnels and trellises. Clusters of sculptures represent “The Deep Freeze,” “Tales of Time,” “The Tree of Life,” “Colorful Trees,” “Nature by the Pond” and “The Shooting Stars.”
The progression of lights – half a million of them all told – is designed to reinforce the Winter Garden storyline through color scheme as well, evolving gradually from chilly blues and whites at the outset to more varied and vibrant hues. By the time you reach the oak tree and the hummingbird at the top of the hill, you realize that now the colors are shifting through the entire spectrum. Your mission accomplished, you then turn around to be confronted with a spectacular panoramic view of the lower levels of the orchard, with streaks and splashes of colored lights strewn across your field of vision near and far.
Your descent on the return loop wends its way through an allée of apple trees, from whose branches hang vividly colored orbs and blossoms of light. Before you reach the end of your exploration, you’ll pass under an archway of “shooting stars,” where you are encouraged to make a wish. If your wish is for hot cider and a cider donut, it will certainly be granted when you get back to the tasting room.
The press tour on opening night offered the opportunity to meet Juan Novoa, MK Illumination’s lead designer and events manager for Lumagica USA. Recounting his first visit to Stone Ridge Orchards to review its potential for a light park with owner Elizabeth Ryan, he said, “I saw that tree [the gigantic white oak] and had this spiritual experience. Using a farm gives us more liberty to use the land as a canvas .… I use the natural landscape as my pattern for the design.”
Ryan seemed delighted with the results of their collaboration. “It’s definitely not kitsch!” she said as she took in the stunning light show in full darkness for the first time. “It’s an immersive art experience.”
Lumagica’s Winter Garden walkthrough light park at Stone Ridge Orchards is open nightly December 2 through 4, 9 through 23 and January 1 through 3, with tours scheduled at half-hour intervals from 3:30 to 9 p.m. To purchase tickets or learn more, visit www.stoneridgeorchard.com/lumagica.html.