A Peaceful Night in the Garden

the 2018 Luminaria

Preview by Sarah Bachmier

[Editor’s note: Luminaria 2019 is sold out]

Nothing gets me more excited about Christmas than Christmas lights. I don’t know what it is, but the atmosphere that the vibrant red, white and green glow illuminates in the cold and dark months of Edmonton’s dreary winter is welcome. If you’re like me and love the change of scenery, as well as being outside, Luminaria might just be the perfect event for you.

The definition of ‘Luminaria’ translates to “Christmas lanterns that consist of a candle in a paper bag to be used as holiday decoration” – and that’s entirely what this event is about. Luminaria is an annual event which transforms the University of Alberta Botanic Garden into a serene atmosphere that embodies the peace of the Christmas season. The event began all the way back in 2000, and after going through a few changes, it has become the phenomenon it is today.

Photo Courtesy of Kerry Mulholland

Luminaria has different set ups throughout the garden, each area different from the other. The Kurimoto Japanese Garden is decorated with pathways of candlelight, where you can take a peaceful walk among nature with the faint sounds of live Christmas carollers singing a capella versions of Christmas classics. Over in the Aga Khan Garden, there are ice sculptures and more displays that embody the Winter season. You may also run into Snow Sprites – Fairies (played by student volunteers) who walk around and share the Christmas joy with the children strolling throughout the event.

In the Leaf Plaza, located right near the main entrance, lies a hay bale maze – perfect for those with kids who love to explore. For those who may have more somber reasons for coming out to Luminaria, you can also light a candle along Memory Lane for a loved one, which is by donation.

There’s a lot of opportunity within Luminaria, enough that could make you wonder which aspect would be a highlight for you. According to Kerry Mulholland, marketing and communications co-ordinator for the garden, “Some people come for the peaceful, serene nature of the event, before the bustle of the holiday season ahead. Others love being outside in the winter beauty, enhanced by the displays of flickering candles.”

Photo Courtesy of Kerry Mulholland

 There is a bit of something for everyone within Luminaria, the shared love of candlelight and serenity a common factor among those who come each year. Outside of the main attractions, there will also be bonfires to keep you warm and toasty, paired with free apple cider to fit the seasonal theme. Apple cider is a staple at Luminaria – they serve over 2000 litres! There will also be chili, hot chocolate, cookies and other beverages for purchase available at the Patio Café to satisfy your Christmas cravings.

Cider and bonfires may help keep you warm, but heavy winter clothes will be the best option for you. The events of Luminaria take place outdoors, so be prepared for any weather circumstance. The event is accessible for wheelchair users, but depending on weather conditions, such as freezing rain or snow, this may limit accessibility. Be prepared for a lot of walking – Luminaria is described as a ‘strolling event’ and is designed as such. The Aga Khan Garden is 11 acres, and the Kurimoto Japanese Garden is 5 acres, so bring your best walking and snow-proof boots.          

The garden is located in Parkland County, but they make it very accessible from Edmonton. It’s only a 15-minute drive from West Edmonton Mall or Southwest Edmonton. Driving also means parking, which costs $25 (per vehicle), and since there is limited availability, drivers must register in advance. For those who live further away, or don’t have the luxury of a car, there is a shuttle from Corbett Hall on the UofA North Campus, which will take 45 minutes to get to the garden. This shuttle is free and leaves every 15-20 minutes. I don’t know about most Edmontonians, but I would much rather leave a half an hour earlier to save $25 – which you can use on food and drink at the garden instead.

Pricewise, the event is relatively affordable, ticket prices for adults being $16.50, seniors and Friend of the Garden members are $13.00, children from 3-12 are $9.00 and children under two are free. Visitors are encouraged to bring toys, gifts or other donations (except food) to the event for the Spruce Grove Kinettes who will be accepting for their Christmas hamper program.

Luminaria is officially sold out for 2019 – with 10,000 people going annually, it often sells out several weeks in advance. The popularity of the event makes sense, as there’s a bit of something for everyone.

What should visitors look most forward to at 2019’s Luminaria? “This year, visitors should watch for the illuminated Snow Sprites, who have a new look, and enjoy a starry path to the Aga Khan Garden for some new visual delights” says Mulholland.

            If you’re looking for a peaceful winter stroll out in the beauty of the botanic garden, sipping on hot cider or chocolate, Luminaria will definitely be an event to keep on your radar. For more information, visit https://luminaria.ualberta.ca/.