Yesterday I promised to tell you about Garden After Dark, a Halloween-type celebration at Red Butte Garden. It's a program the garden has been doing for several years, but it was my first time experiencing the magic.
Garden After Dark (GAD) is a six night event that happens the last two weekends of October. There is a theme each year. This year's theme was "Haunted Holidays around the World". There were five or six countries represented and a traditional crafty thing was done at each of the country's stations. For example, this year, there was a Mexico station featuring Dia de los Muertos (Day of the Dead) where the kids made sugar skull masks. There was another station where there was face painting. From Nigeria there was a fun little maze. From Japan there was the Obon Festival where the kids made lanterns and set the lanterns out on the pond. There were a few others too. You'll understand why I don't know all about all of the stations in a minute.
I volunteered on both of the Saturdays of GAD. The first week, I was a greeter in the Visitor Center. Basically all I had to do was stand at the top of the stairs and direct people to the ticket counter or out to the garden and try to keep the stairs safe. There was an intense and extremely busy hour when the garden opened, but then it mellowed out and I was able to leave my post to walk around the garden a little bit. (I had a partner at the top of the stairs, so we took turns taking a break.)
When I walked around that first night, I just went out to the courtyard to see what was going on there, then I walked up to the Children's Garden to see the mask making, and I walked down to the pond to look at all the lanterns on the water. Here's what I know for sure - that garden is dark at night! The paths were lit, but it was still really dark. I used the flashlight on my phone to make sure of my footing.
When I made my way down to the pond, it was really awesome. There were hundreds of lanterns on the water. I did take a photo, but honestly it wasn't very good because it was really dark and all you could see were all these lights on a black background. If I didn't know what I was looking at, I'd just be confused. You have to believe me, though, it was cool!
Fast forward to the second Saturday. My assignment that week was to make lanterns at the pond!
There were a dozen or so volunteers at the station. A couple of people were lighting the candles in the lanterns and putting them on the water. The rest of us were making lanterns. There were three lantern-making tables with two or three volunteers at each table. At my table, there was a mother-daughter team at the other end.
We had a chance to practice the lantern-making technique before the people came. It was pretty easy. You had a piece of YUPO paper that the kids would draw on. Then we would form a cylinder with the paper and staple the ends. Then we used two pieces of tape to attached the YUPO cylinder to a styrofoam plate. Dropping a little tea light candle into the cylinder was the last step of the process. Easy peasy, right? Right! That is, until there are hundreds of little kids wanting to color on the YUPO paper and shoving their papers at you to make the lantern. I sat there from 6:30 - 8:30 solid without getting up, just stapling, taping, and dropping in candles. I was nice and cheery and told as many kids as I could that their art was amazing.
I bet I made 100 lanterns. It felt like it anyway! Several times during the two hour stint I was surrounded by half a dozen kids, all chattering at me and drawing and telling me about their costumes and what they were drawing and who they were there with and whatever else came into their heads. I kind of loved it. Most of the parents were really cool, too. I had a couple of moms even come back to help me during the busiest rush. They were handing me strips of tape and holding out the plates and pulling up the wicks on the candles. I felt bad that I was going slow, but they felt bad that there were so many people and only me at my part of the station. It was all good, though. I don't think anyone walked away that wanted a lantern that didn't get to make one.
At one point, one of the busiest times, another volunteer came over to me and asked if I wanted some hot chocolate. I had to laugh because there was no room at my station for me to put a cup of hot chocolate. I was surrounded by kids coloring - I bet there was six kids around me at that time. There was no time to put on my jacket let alone drink hot chocolate! It was nice of her to offer, though.
When the rush finally died down sometime after 8:30, I walked behind the tent to see the pond. WOW! So. Many. Lanterns.
In case you're wondering, volunteers get in canoes or kayaks and go out on the water and gather up the lanterns. Maybe they even wade in. The pond isn't very deep. I'm glad that wasn't part of my job though!
How was the weather, you may be asking. On both of my Saturdays, the weather was fine. It was chilly, but not too cold and there was no rain, either. Sitting beside the pond down at the bottom of the canyon, there was a cool breeze all night long. I was mostly warm because I always had a wall of people around me. When they went away, I did get cold and quickly put on my (lightweight) jacket.
So that's my experience with Garden After Dark. Do you see why I don't know much about all the stations? I was busy! I will say the the event is extremely well-organized and is run very efficiently. I felt like I was treated very nicely by the Red Butte Garden staff. They provided food and drinks for us before the event and as I mentioned, offered hot drinks and snacks during the event.
I will definitely plan to volunteer again next year. There are lots of opportunities to volunteer and not just during the event. There is a ton of set-up and tear-down and craft prep. It all depends on how much time I am able to give. It's fun!