Luminaria Ignites the Christmas Spirit

by Zosia Czarnecka

Anyone who knows me knows about my mild obsession with Christmas lights and candles. This past summer, I was furnishing my apartment in Germany for a few months and one of my first moves was to line the perimeter of the room with candles. It was the middle of June and unbearably hot, but I still had 30-some candles burning every night. Naturally, it should not surprise anyone that I have always wanted to visit the Devonian Botanic Garden’s Luminaria festival. Every year, my Instagram feed gets flooded with shots of the candle-illuminated paths and I am always heartbroken that the festival does not line up with my schedule. This year, it finally did. As I sped out of the city to the gardens, my head was full of images of what Luminaria would look like. I know the gardens well – my parents often took me there numerous times each summer. That combined with all the stellar Instagram shots had me imagining long, winding stretches of candle-lit paths in the dark. Unfortunately, I was a little deceived. Luminaria is concentrated in Devonian’s Kurimoto Japanese garden (a five-acre area near the main gates of the gardens). As I learned that night, this garden is designed in authentic Japanese fashion, but with filled  Canadian plants that will survive our harsh winters. The culture and authenticity of the gardens comes from the ornaments – the pagoda, the wooden shelters, the lanterns, and the “friendship bell.” The gardens are named in honour of Dr. Yuichi Kurimoto – the University of Alberta’s first Japanese national graduate (1930). The friendship bell was donated by Kurimoto’s wife and has a beautiful message of friendship between our University of Alberta and the Nagoya Shoka Daigaku University founded by Dr. Yuichi Kurimoto.

While I was originally hoping for a larger, more private showcase of lights and mystic carols, I realized the festival serves a completely different purpose. The gardens have always been the perfect spot to escape the loud clamour of the city – to reconnect over conversation, get lost on a walk, and enjoy time with family away from all responsibilities. Luminaria illuminates some of these same feelings. The festival is designed as a family event – the small area means that kids can run around without their parents ever really losing sight of them. Our community desperately needs more of these spaces where kids can explore their curiosity without worrying about doing something wrong. Christmas has always been the season to reach out to those you lose touch with during the hectic fall months and Luminaria was a perfect display of this. As my friend and I walked around, I couldn’t help but giggle at the innocent happiness of these youngsters – they embody the Christmas spirit to its fullest.

Luminaria was originally started in 2000 by Friends of the Garden as a millennium celebration. In 2008, the event returned as an annual festival run by hundreds of volunteers. Originally a one-night showcase, the event has grown to three (completely sold out!) evenings, attracting almost 10 000 visitors. In talking with Kerry Mulholland (a spokesperson for the festival), she hinted that the Garden will be undergoing “a period of significant growth and renewal” and that these may include expanding the Luminaria area in a sustainable manner that will retain the “essential peaceful nature of Luminaria.” The event has already grown over the years to include a children’s maze in the parking lot, free apple cider (a welcome warmth on a chilly evening), ice sculptures and carollers. Regardless of your expectations arriving to the garden, no one can deny the blissful excitement of heading on a small adventure outside the city to see thousands of candles beautiful light up the winter night.

Banner Photography courtesy of Moh Mahfouz (@itsmohzee).

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