Walk through a twinkling wonderland at Naumkeag
By Jennifer Huberdeau
Winterlights is back, and it’s bigger and better than ever.
The popular holiday lights show returns to Naumkeag, the 44-room Gilded Age mansion and garden estate of three generations of the Choate family, for its second year starting Nov. 21, with new displays and a new garden “room” decked out in lights.
And this year, Winterlights at Naumkeag is doubling down on the number of lights it will have on display. There will be nearly 240,000 LED lights shimmering and twinkling over its 8 acres of terraced gardens — double the 120,000 that Winterlights debuted with last November.
“The big new addition this year will be the Chinese Garden,” said Brian Cruey, general manager at Naumkeag and director of The Trustees of Reservations’ properties in the Southern Berkshires. “We’re refining a few things and adding a couple of new things here and there. It will feel like a totally new experience, even if you came last year.
“And we’ll still have some of last year’s favorites — the Rainbow Road, the Candy Cane steps and as many cider doughnuts as you can eat.”
Designed by renowned landscape architect Fletcher Steele and Mabel Choate, Naumkeag’s garden is made up of several smaller garden “rooms,” including the Peony Terrace, the Linden Walk and Ronde Pointe, as well as the Afternoon, Rose, Evergreen and Chinese gardens.
Naumkeag is one of three Trustees properties to host Winterlights this holiday season.
The holiday light show also returns to Stevens-Coolidge Place in North Andover, Mass., for a second season as well. A third garden property, the Eleanor Cabot Bradley Estate in Canton, Mass., will debut its own version of Winterlights this month.
“We had about 22,000 people come through last year,” Cruey said of Winterlights’ success at Naumkeag during the 2018 season. “We were all completely overwhelmed, in a good way. It was wonderful to see everyone’s reactions to Winterlights, and it’s really amped us up for this year.”
During the 2018 show, Naumkeag’s gardens were washed with colors — reds, greens, yellows, blues and purples; while fountains, dormant in cold weather, were made to shoot frozen blue spouts of colored lights into the air. Cruey said visitors can expect that and more this season.
“Last year was great. We were so thrilled [with the turnout],” he said. “When you go into these things, you don’t know what it’s going to be like in your first year. It’s hard to gauge. It was great that people responded the way they did, and I hope they feel the same way about it and some of the other new things we’re doing this year.”
There’s always room to improve, Cruey said, noting that returning visitors should notice a stark difference when it comes to the property’s entry and exit points, especially at the off-site parking lot at the Marian Fathers National Shrine of Divine Mercy.
“We learned a lot of lessons last year. We’re working on logistical issues, on a much more elaborate time-ticketing system with a better bus and transportation system to and from [off-site parking at] the Marian Fathers,” he said. “We know that everyone had a great experience once they got to the property. From a customer service standpoint, we want our guests to have a great visitor experience the entire time they are with us.”
One thing that won’t change is Naumkeag’s focus on community.
“We’re going to continue some of our community nights for service members, teachers/educators, first responders, and a few other groups,” Cruey said. “We’ll also be donating blocks of tickets to CHP, Berkshire United Way and the Berkshire Literacy Network. We’re committed to welcoming the community in a meaningful way and introducing people to Naumkeag.”
A highlight of hosting events that extend out the property’s normal season, he said, is bringing in local residents from the Berkshires and neighboring counties who never have been there before.
“And we’ve seen many of those people come back for our other programming or just for a tour,” Cruey said. “Not only are we introducing them to the property, we have people coming back to visit as a result of coming to Winterlights. It’s nice to have that support continue throughout the year.”
If you go …
Winterlights at Naumkeag
Where: 5 Prospect Hill Road, Stockbridge, Mass.
When: 5 to 8 p.m. Thursdays through Sundays, Nov. 21 to Dec. 31 (Members-only Preview Days on Nov. 21 and Nov. 22. Closed Thanksgiving Day.)
Also open Dec. 23, Dec. 30 and Dec. 31.
Check The Trustees of Reservations’ website for information on community nights and other festivities.
Admission: Preregistration required. $12 for Trustees members; $17 for nonmembers; free for children 12 and younger.
Tickets: Online at thetrustees.org/things-to-do/special-events/winterlights-tickets-naumkeag.html
Parking: Due to the high number of participants expected, parking will be off-site at the Marian Fathers National Shrine of Divine Mercy. A shuttle will take you from the parking area to Naumkeag. Use the entrance at the end of Pine Street (GPS Coordinates 42.291684, -73.308797).
The first shuttle will leave promptly at 5 p.m. and the last shuttle returning to the parking area will leave Naumkeag at 8:30 p.m.
Cancellations: Winterlights will only be canceled if a snow emergency is declared. Cancellations will be announced on Naumkeag’s Facebook page. Tickets for a canceled night will be redeemed on any other date.
Jennifer Huberdeau is editor of UpCountry magazine. She also pens the column “Mysteries from the Morgue” for The Berkshire Eagle.