“Crunch.” “Crunch.” “Crunch.” The satisfyingly solid, yet, squeaky crunch of fresh powder breaks the silence as I stroll through a world blanketed in snow.

It’s a crisp December evening, and a quick, less than three-hour ride on the Victoria Clipper has landed me in British Columbia’s capital city for a much-needed escape just in time for the holidays. The rare dusting of the white stuff has caught the city of off guard but has turned Victoria into a winter wonderland. The perfect remedy to days have that been, well, a bit damp and drab back in Seattle.

Nothing could make the experience any more magical. Except, perhaps, some holiday lights, which is how my travel companion and I found ourselves traipsing through a frozen parking lot, on a mission to check out The Butchart Gardens Holiday Lights display to indulge in a little festive goodness.

Butchart Gardens Holiday Lights

Delight in Fabulous Winter Time Fun

A few steps into the grounds and the glistening open-air ice rink immediately catches our eyes. Having been a few years since I last laced up a pair of skates, I am content to snap a picture or two and soak in the wintery scene. A canopy of lights twinkle softly overhead. Christmas tunes float through the air. I quickly find myself in a Zen-like state, with one single repetitive thought around whether anything could be more festive or stunning.

Butcharts' frosty skating rink offers no shortage of holiday cheer. Photo: The Butchart Gardens
Butcharts’ frosty skating rink offers no shortage of holiday cheer. Credit: Brenna Ciummo

Souls warmed, we swing by The Gardens’ coffee shop to grab a delicious cup of steaming hot chocolate paired with a fresh, house-made shortbread cookie to fuel our journey.

Wander Through a Colorful Palette of Dazzling Lights

A mere five minutes into our stroll, I can barely contain my joy and excitement, as an awe-inspiring display of more than 300,000 lights stretches before us. Even with the night sky partly covered with snow clouds, it feels like we are wandering through the twinkling stars of the Milky Way. Feeling giddy as a little kid, I glance to the left and then right, not sure where to focus first to soak in the dazzling display of lights.

(Insider tip: Visit The Gardens at about 4:00 p.m. to catch the magical transition from day to night. Watch as the sun dips below the horizon in a flaming ball of brilliant orange. Then, one by one, the lights click on, slowly filling the grounds with an illuminating glow.)

Pathways, flower beds, trees and shrubs are all adorned in Christmas lights. Photo: The Butchart Gardens
Pathways, flower beds, trees and shrubs are all adorned in Christmas lights. Credit: The Butchart Gardens

Evergreen boughs and fairy lights rim the paths. Not far from The Garden’s Dining Room Restaurant, silvery-blue icicles melt off a sapphire tree. A little further down the road, we stumble upon a tree dripping with golden pears, a faux partridge nestled in the middle. I nudge my companion, and exclaim, “A partridge in a pear tree!” Excitedly remembering a friend mentioning that The Gardens are decked out in a 12 Days of Christmas theme. (If you have little ones in tow, be sure to pick up a “Magic of Christmas Walk” checklist from the Visitor’s Center and use it as a guide to pick out all the scenes from the song. If you’re lucky enough to find them all, the kiddos (12 years old or younger) will be rewarded with a special gift from the Visitor Center.)

We follow the path toward Butcharts’ crown jewel, the iconic Sunken Garden, passing more imaginative scenes along the way. Those two caged birds? Turtle doves. That flock of trendy looking hens sipping cafe au late in front of the Eiffel Tower? Three French hens. The random group of birds clutching tiny phones in their claws and beaks? Four calling birds.

Five golden rings light up the Sunken Garden lake. Photo: The Butchart Gardens
Five golden rings light up the Sunken Garden lake. Credit: The Butchart Gardens

Reaching the top of the Sunken Gardens, we soak in a breathtaking vista that words just can’t do justice to describe. Simply put, if the view doesn’t cause your jaw to drop, I don’t know what will. A colorful wonderland of lights fills every inch of the spectacular grounds. We scramble down the steps for a closer look.

Dazzling lights in a kaleidoscope of colors add drama to the trees and shrubs in the Sunken Garden. Photo: The Butchart Gardens
Dazzling lights in a kaleidoscope of colors add drama to the trees and shrubs in the Sunken Garden. Credit: The Butchart Gardens

Snow heaped on top of lighted plants makes bushes look 100 times more magical and glittering rivers and streams of lights flow through the grounds. Continuing on, we pass the remaining 12 Days of Christmas, each display more impressive than the last.

A Festive Feast Delivered Through Spectacular Sips and Eats

Before we know it, we find ourselves back near the former residence of the Butchart family, the Butchart Dining Room Restaurant. Ready to give our feet a rest, and tuning into our rumbling stomachs, we duck inside for dinner. One of The Gardens’ hidden gems, the warm and inviting restaurant serves up some of the tastiest dishes around. Butcharts’ exceptional culinary team works months in advance to carefully craft and test the various holiday menus, so it’s no surprise the spot has received numerous accolades, such as the Open Table 2016 Diner’s Choice Award for its cuisine.

Sparkling lights frame The Dining Room. Photo: The Butchart Gardens
Sparkling lights frame The Dining Room. Credit: The Butchart Gardens

We cozy up next to the restaurant’s roaring fire and opt for the wild B.C. salmon fillet and the carved beef tenderloin, served to perfection. Never being ones to skip out on dessert, we split the apple tarte tatin. Brimming with cinnamon covered apples and married with Canadian whiskey ice cream, it is ooey gooey perfection. (Insider tip: If you arrive earlier in the day, cozy up with the special seasonal afternoon tea. Munch on holiday-themed tea treats such as a rotisserie chicken salad and fig chutney, cranberry spice cake trifle and gingerbread meringue that will leave you begging for more.)

Following dinner, we wander back out to the Piazza, where the faint strains of classic Christmas carols catch our ears, instantly bringing back childhood memories of bygone times around the Christmas tree. We stop and listen to the sweet sounds of the carolers and then stick around to hear the toe-tapping tunes of the festive brass band (the two groups alternate every half hour between 5:00 p.m. – 9:00 p.m.). As one last stop, we pop into The Butchart Seed & Gift Store to snag of a tin of Butcharts’ 100th Anniversary loose leaf tea and packet of poppy seeds. Last-minute Christmas shopping = success.

Listen to carolers among the trees at The Butchart Gardens. Photo: Brenna Ciummo
Listen to carolers among the trees at The Butchart Gardens. Credit: Brenna Ciummo

When it comes times to leave The Gardens, I realize we’ve yet to see one final display, the 12th Day of Christmas. Thinking we’ve missed it, I glance around hoping to spot its hiding place. No such luck. As we head back to the car, I promise myself to do a better job of keeping track of them next year. At the car, I take one last, longing look to capture a mental snapshot of the amazing and brilliantly lighted grounds. Looking up, I realize I haven’t missed the last display at all, it is right there in front of me. A row of 12 drummers line the top of the archway to The Gardens, offering a cheery send-off until my return visit next year.

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Featured Photo: The Butchart Gardens

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