In 1987, Marshall was in its worst local economy in history. Unemployment skyrocketed from 2.5% to 20% and essentially the whole town was depressed. As Marshall News Messenger Editor George S. Smith was walking across the Historic Harrison County Courthouse Square he noticed how many shops had shut their doors, including the HCHC. For just a second, he saw it strung with lights. He returned to the News Room and wrote “Picture this: Marshall’s square, every tree, every bush…the Harrison County Courthouse Museum…A Gigantic Christmas Tree…Businesses around the square…decorated in tiny white lights. It could be a spectacle that would rival any other Christmas lighting scene in this area, think about it. We could make it happen.” A few months later a Marshall native living in France received a copy of the editorial and responded with a check enclosed for $25,000 and the note “Have your wish.” The community went on to fundraise over $70,000 to see it through.
In those days, Wonderland of Lights wasn’t about the amusements and fanfare, it was about hope; it was families who drove over in their car simple to come see the beauty of the lights in an otherwise dark time. In present day, we find ourselves in a similar situation as COVID-19 changes the world around us. In our 35th year, we return to our roots. While Wonderland of Lights will look different this year than recently, our feasibility committee is committed to keeping our citizens and visitors safe and healthy. We believe that there are innovative ways to accommodate the Governors Minimum Safety Standards and City’s Outdoor Event Guidelines.
We are recommending for approval by the City Event and Facility Committee that nightly amusements be limited to horse drawn carriage rides only, with the carriage company following procedures for distancing and cleanliness. As high touch, high-volume activities, we do not see a safe way to proceed with ice skating, the carousel, train rides, or Santa’s Village.
We believe that there are safe ways to proceed with the following special activities: Virtual Lighting Ceremony, Wassail Walk, a reverse Lighted Christmas Parade, the Outdoor Christmas Market, and Wonderland of Sites.
These preparedness accommodations will take additional preparation, but we are committed to seeing continued economic growth for our downtown businesses. In 2020, Marshall remains one of the few Main Street communities across Texas to not only keep all their businesses open, but add a handful of new ones. We are committed to our merchants, our visitors, and our citizens and kept their safety at the front of our minds in all discussions leading up to these decisions.
We understand that in these times, plans change from one day to the next. As we move closer to the event we will stay informed on the regulations in place by National, State, and Local government and will further adapt or cancel any events as needed.
Thank you for your consideration,
Wonderland of Lights Feasibility Committee
2020 Wonderland of Lights Event Details and Safe Practices
Opening Ceremony: We are proposing a virtual ceremony on the night before Thanksgiving, Wednesday, November 25. We will have a Facebook live video from the Courthouse. We may have one person read the story of Wonderland and provide details about where to find more information about the upcoming special events, including their countdown to the lights being turned on. Police Officers will be present, as they normally are, to monitor and disperse any gathering that may happen.
Wassail Walk: National Small Business Saturday is November 28, 2020. We are proposing Wassail Walk is moved from a daytime event to early evening so that the lights come on towards the end of the tastings. Instead of the souvenir mug, shops will use single serve, disposable, cups. Shops are responsible to make their own wassail and oversee safe service. Voting will be done virtually. Social distancing signage and sanitizing stations will be available outdoors, as well as in each shop.
Lighted Christmas Parade: The parade will be done in reverse, where those who would normally be spectators instead drive a set route in their own vehicle. “Parade Entries’” will be the businesses, buildings, or lots decorated along the route. There will be a virtual voting of the decorated, stationary entries. This can be done over one weekend instead of a set time in one day, with voting only live during that time.
Outdoor Christmas Market: It has been proposed to have the Outdoor Market two weekends instead of one, spanning all day Saturday. Vendor booths would be spaced 10 feet apart along both sides of North Washington Avenue, with booths set up in the street along the curb line. Pedestrian entrance points to the block can be blocked and staffed if needed for control of the number of shoppers on the street at one time. Signs for social distancing will be displayed, as well as sanitizing stations available. Shopper and vendors will be required to wear a mask.
Wonderland of Sites: This is a self-guided history tour that does not require any special changes, though we would like to add a few historical additions. Maps will be available listing the places of interest, including the participating museums and historical buildings of importance. Museums will follow the precautions set forth for their usual operation in GA-28 and GA-29. The Harrison County Historical Commission has large placards from a previous walking tour that will be placed outside of the buildings noting their historic architecture and former history of use.
Story Fest: This will be adapted from a one day, in person event to the whole span of Wonderland as a Story Walk. Each week, participating businesses will each display in their window one page of a children’s holiday book. Readers are encouraged to walk the route to finish reading the whole book through the exterior window. There will be a different story each week. Businesses may piggyback off that week’s book with specials or their own craft. (Ex: if the book is “Pick a Pine Tree”, the store may have a special on ornaments or make pine cone ornaments for a craft in store.) Businesses that participate and hold their own accompanying events will abide by the governors orders set in place for their type of business. (Capacity limit, masks required, ensures social distancing, and increased cleanliness of staff and availability for hand cleaning for guest access.)
Memorial City Hall: Movies could be shown Thursday, Friday, and Saturday (exact dates of the week TBD) at 50% capacity with a limited number of ticket sales. Guests will be seated in every other row, only with their family, not to exceed 10 people that must arrive together. These regulations are taken directly from the Minimum Health Standard Protocols. Doors will be opened earlier than normal utilizing staggered arrival times, and the lobby will not be available to gather. Sanitizing stations will be available upon entry. Masks will be required for persons 10 years of age and older.
Downtown Merchant Participation: We have held a downtown merchant meeting, as well as discussed these alternatives with the Main Street Board. All those who attended these meetings understood the challenges that we face this year, and were appreciative of our goal to not cancel in entirety but instead innovate. Many great ideas were brought up that businesses and organizations can do for community participation in Wonderland of Lights. The businesses will be held to the standards set forth by the governor, which currently allow 50% capacity in addition to masks, distancing, and increased cleanliness. They understand that these orders may change at any time and accommodate accordingly.
Horse Drawn Carriages: Our partnering Carriage Company, Sacred Spur Carriage Company, will be responsible for ticketing of their own carriages. They will use a virtual, book ahead system that was introduced during Wonderland 2019. Ride times will be staggered to avoid gathering prior to the allotted time, with the loading stations placed 20 feet apart to be mindful of distancing for staff and guests. Guests in the carriage will be from the same party that booked together. (Ex. Two or more random groups will not be combined if they are not in the same household) Masks for staff and guests will be required. High touch surfaces will be wiped down between each ride boarding.