Christmas in the Park returns for 35th year

Published: Nov. 23, 2022 at 10:24 PM CST
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JACKSON COUNTY, Mo. (KCTV) - The 35th Christmas in the Park light display opened for the season Wednesday night, bigger than ever.

The magic begins as you drive through a twinkling tunnel, then winds around for a slow drive filled with 200 displays holding 1 million lights. An estimated 300,000 people attend each year.

The Jackson County Department of Parks and Recreation begins assembling the displays on Oct. 1, after camping season ends. The giant drive-through display takes place in the campgrounds.

“Every year, somebody comes up with a different idea to make it bigger and better,” said Park Ranger Aaron Gunzel. “So, it really is kind of a fun project for most everybody in the parks department.”

Gunzel has been involved with the project for 28 of its 35 years.

This year, one of the new additions is a display called Candyland. It features a 28-foot lighted gumball machine surrounded by ribbon candies, lollipops and peppermints.

None of the animated displays came from a store. They were all designed and built by parks department staff.

“There was one that we bought a long, long time ago -- a poinsettia, I think,” Gunzel recalled. “And, we looked it and thought, ‘Oh man, we can do better than that.’”

Even more rewarding than seeing their handiwork all lit up is to see the reactions from the kids leaning out the windows or, in some cases, standing up through sunroofs as the traffic creeps along at less than 5 mph.

Donations on the way out of the free event have raised more than $1.2 million for more than 1,000 local charities since the event’s inception.

The wait to get through the gates can be up to an hour on busy nights, which are Friday, Saturdays and holidays.

Christmas in the Park is open through Dec. 31. Hours are 5:30 p.m. to 10 p.m. Sunday through Thursday, and 5:30 p.m. to 11 p.m. Friday and Saturday.

For more information, go to the Jackson County Parks and Rec webpage for the event.