Today, volunteers are making the paths of Hopelands Gardens sparkle.


They could be out working for at least two hours, but they are doing it all for you.


“This is the City's gift to the community,” said Sam Radford with the City of Aiken Parks, Recreation and Tourism department.


That gift comes annually wrapped in lights, and you don't have to wait until Christmas Day to unwrap it.


On Dec. 12, Christmas in Hopelands is returning for its 22nd year. Thousands of lights will make the gardens shine more than a 13-day period.


“For me, it's always been a family tradition,” Radford said.


This year, Radford got to see what it was like behind the scenes.


“It's a blessing,” she said. “Growing up, I've always appreciated the beauty of the event but, now, I appreciate all the hard work that goes into it. ... It really is a team effort.”


The start

Christmas in Hopelands opened for a six-day running in 1992.


Those days extended to the following week, due to the overwhelming positive turnout.


“Christmas in Hopelands surely will become an annual holiday event in Aiken, and it appears that is the intent of its sponsors,” a 1993 Aiken Standard editorial read.


The City has been planning this year's return since around October and set up began in early November, Radford said.


Groups within the City's PRT department and the community contribute their time. City employees set out the light displays.


Volunteers then come and plug in more than 100,000 light bulbs into the strung-up lightlines.


“With just the PRT department, it would take over two hours,” Radford said. “These volunteers are a huge help.”


Around 30 volunteers show up each year to help with this part.


“Everyone is so happy,” Radford said about the crews that set-up. “I guess it's not possible to be a grinch when you are working Christmas in Hopelands.”


After the volunteers finish today, Christmas in Hopelands will be ready to go.


The event

This year's event will run from Dec. 12 to 23 and Dec. 26. It is free and open each night from 6 to 9:30 p.m.


Parking will be available at Citizens Park, 1060 Banks Mill Road. A shuttle will run from the park to Hopelands Gardens from 5:45 to 9 p.m.


Handicapped parking is available at Hopelands. Shuttles this year are provided by the City, Aiken High and South Aiken High.


Once you arrive, a City employee or volunteer will hand you a map.


You will also see them at the refreshment stands giving out cookies, hot chocolate and apple cider.


“This wouldn't be possible without the volunteers,” Radford said. “Most say they have fun with it, and we have had a lot return.”


In addition to the extensive light exhibit, the Thoroughbred Hall of Fame and Museum, the Doll House and the Carriage Museum will be open.


The labyrinth – the site's maze – will be lit up for those who want to experience it.


Local artisans will sell their handmade crafts at The Rye Patch Reception Center every night.


If there is poor weather one day, that night may be canceled, Radford said.


To double check, call 803-643-4661 or 803-642-7631.


One night last year, more than 4,500 people came to the gardens. Before that, the record-breaking number was 1,200.


“We anticipate around 500 to 1,000 people each night,” Radford said.


The decorations

Strung up lights guide you along your journey through the festive exhibit.


Animals, gingerbread men and carolers are just a few of the more than 30 displays to be seen.


Coming back is the memorial for fallen officers Master Cpl. Sandy Rogers and Master Public Safety Officer Scotty Richardson.


Blue icicle trees and the 26-foot garland tree will be step up, too. However, this year's garland tree is a fresher one.


“We retired the old one,” Radford said.


Hanging above will be new zigzag tree decorations. The set-up is based on tradition, Radford said.


Decorations and paths are added when finances permit. Donations toward next year's event will be accepted during this year's event.


Entertainment

Choirs, bands and movies will be showing each night at 7 p.m., unless otherwise noted.


The movies are new this year. They were added with the goal to provide each day's crowds with a bit extra.


“T'was the Night Before Christmas” will show on Dec. 15, and “How the Grinch Stole Christmas” will play on Dec. 26. Both are under an hour and are animated, Radford said.


This year's performers are Harmony River Chorus, Aiken Middle and High School Jazz Bands, Talatha Baptist Church Choir, AAA Home School Band, The Aiken Singers, The Aiken Concert Band, Chukker Creek Show Choir with the Boundary Boys, Casting Colors Youth Bell Choir, Suzuki Strings of Augusta, Barb & Roger Rollins Quintet and CSRA New Horizons.


Mrs. Claus is making her Christmas in Hopelands debut this year.


She will be down to help children write letters to Santa. Those letters will then be placed in a special mailbox, according to Radford.


As they visit with her, the children will also be able to see what Santa's reindeer are up to via the reindeer camera that will be displayed.


“He's getting ready for Christmas Eve,” Radford said, as she viewed the live footage.


At that time, the reindeer was relaxing and eating a meal. As the big day approaches, snow will fall, and Santa's sleigh will appear.


To see this camera or get your child's name on the “Nice List,” visit reindeercam.com.


Final note

Once the night ends on Dec. 26, break down will take about two to three weeks, Radford said.


How much will be shown next year is partly based on the donations received this year.


Hopeland Gardens is at 135 Dupree Place.


It has been open as a public spot since 1969.


For more information, call Radford at 803-642-7649, the gardens' front office at 803-642-7650 or visit www.cityofaikensc.gov.