The folks at Silver Dollar City (SDC), near Branson, Missouri, are dressed up, settled in, decked out, revved up and altogether ready for An Old Time Christmas 2008, the 21st SDC Christmas festival. A thousand decorated trees and more than four million lights bring the Ozark theme park to sparkling life day and night. What an invitation for families looking for a new Christmas treat.
USA Today, CNN Travel and Good Morning America have all cited SDC’s Old Time Christmas as one of the nation’s top holiday celebrations. Having been there for the last three Christmases, I’ll have to agree with the secular media on this one!
What can you expect? Well, for starters, lots of lights. After dark a five-story Christmas tree in the square is the star of a special effects music and light show every 15 minutes. The tree’s thousands of lights dance and shimmer to the beat of the music. And a Holiday Light Parade has eight lighted floats with 100,000 lights.
Also for the whole family, SDC’s Dickens’ Christmas Carol is a one-hour musical adaptation of the classic story presented on-stage at the Opry House. SDC players portray the Christmas ghosts, Tiny Tim and the transformation of Ebenezer Scrooge with humor and emotion. National reviews have likened its quality to Broadway.
Yes, there’s a lot to see, but there’s also a lot to do at SDC. For the young – and the young at heart – this season sees the debut of Frosty, an interactive musical that invites kids to help bring the legendary snowman to life. And believe it or not, for night-time thriller rides, the park’s roller coasters will zip you up above the lights and around the park. I have to confess, I haven’t tried that yet. Maybe next Christmas.
The park’s Culinary & Craft School, open for the first time this fall, offers short classes in the kitchen arts – classic Christmas cookies, holiday pies and traditional soups and stews. Of course, throughout the park, down-home food is available at every turn – a prime rib buffet, turkey and all the trimmings, apple dumplings, hot wassail and more.
This unique park began as the vision of Hugo Herschend who, with his wife and teenage sons Jack and Pete, began developing Marvel Cave into a regional tourist attraction in the early 1950s. Ten years later, they had begun to purchase, move and reassemble authentic Ozark structures at the site – homes, shops, a church – and they were hosting up to 600 adult guests a day.
Suffice it to say that Marvel Cave (still open for tours) and Silver Dollar City thrived. This Christmas season, November and December, they’ll host 350,000 guests or more.
“When we started the Christmas festival in 1988, we weren’t sure if it would even work during a time that was traditionally the off-season,” says Brad Schroeder, SDC entertainment director. Now, SDC offers a fun, friendly, safe environment where families can immerse themselves in the spirit of Christmas. A large nativity scene in one locale and a living nativity in another will help your family remember the reason we celebrate.
Jack and Pete Herschend still head Herschend Family Entertainment, with some 20 properties in nine states. Many call it a “Christian company,” and, indeed its main players take their faith seriously both in and out of the office. The Herschends attribute their business success to principles they learned from their father, who passed away of a heart attack while the park was still in its infancy.
What principles did they learn from their dad? Integrity. Hard work. The ability to dream big. Honesty. Respect for others. Faith. The SDC corporate mission statement talks of respecting guests and employees, and creating great family memories. And it ends by saying they will accomplish this “all in a manner consistent with Christian values and ethics.”
“We are in the entertainment business and we work very, very hard to provide worthwhile entertainment,” says Pete Herschend. In other words, he doesn’t see SDC as an evangelistic ministry. Yet the Christian faith is welcome there.
“We love this place,” says Danny Eakin, “because we can witness for the Lord.” Eakin is a long-time performer with the Homestead Pickers at McHaffie’s Homestead, one of the Ozark cabins at the park.
“In Las Vegas, they use the theme ‘What happens in Vegas stays in Vegas,'” says Pete. “We hope what happens here goes everywhere.”
Four million lights, one thousand Christmas trees, music, food, drama and roller coasters – all in a Christian environment. No wonder SDC is earning a reputation as the nation’s best spot for a family Old Time Christmas.