The Arboretum at Penn State’s Winter Celebration aims to please town and gown

Festive lights hang from the ceiling in 2016 during The Arboretum at Penn State’s Winter Celebration.
Festive lights hang from the ceiling in 2016 during The Arboretum at Penn State’s Winter Celebration. Centre Daily Times, file

The Arboretum at Penn State invites the campus and community to welcome the holiday season at its annual Winter Celebration on Dec. 8.

Visitors may stroll through holiday displays, listen to seasonal music and buy a cup of hot cocoa. Student a cappella groups, the State High Chamber Singers and the Pennharmonics — a Penn State student ensemble — will perform a concert of popular and holiday tunes on the event lawn starting at 5:30 p.m. All activities will take place in the Arboretum’s H.O. Smith Botanic Gardens at the corner of Bigler Road and Park Avenue.

“This year for the first time we will have an a cappella group from the State College Area High School, the State High Chamber Singers,” Reeder said. “We are very excited about engaging high school students in this community event that helps everyone to celebrate the season with song.”

Seasonal décor will include a tall tree showcased in the Glass House in the children’s garden and holiday trees in the children’s garden, at the overlook pavilion and along the main walkway. Holiday displays will remain in place until January.

“The concept of Winter Celebration was developed in fall 2014 as the result of brainstorming about how to bring the University and local community together to celebrate the arrival of winter, the end of the semester, and the start of the holiday season,” said Kathleen Reeder, event and marketing coordinator at The Arboretum at Penn State. “Especially important was the idea of reminding people that there are beautiful landscapes, textures and colors to enjoy in the gardens during any season.”

Each year the main attractions have remained simple — seasonal horticultural displays, holiday trees, decorations made with natural materials and ornaments made by children — all combining to create a family-friendly place to gather and appreciate the season.

“Having a cappella groups sing and having hot cocoa on hand complete the holiday atmosphere,” Reeder said. “Since the first Winter Celebration, we have purchased additional lights so that trees along the main walkway could be lighted and the fountain area could be illuminated by a tall tree of lights.”

The largest holiday tree, which is showcased in the Glass House in Childhood’s Gate Children’s Garden, is a popular backdrop for photos.

“The tree is decorated with natural materials gathered from the gardens and nature-inspired ornaments made by children,” Reeder said. “Children also make the outdoor bird feeder ornaments that are placed on evergreens in the raised beds in the children’s garden.”

This year the following schools and child care facilities will make the decorations: Bennett Family Center, Child Care Center at Hort Woods, Friends Schoolhouse, State College Friends School, Grace Lutheran Preschool, Montessori School of the Nittany Valley and Easter Seals Child Development Center. Several Girl Scout troops are also expected to participate. The participation of the various schools and child-care facilities is organized by Linda Duerr, the Arboretum’s coordinator of children’s educational programs.

“While groups of trees will be festooned with strings of lights along the main walkway, the second main venue for photo opportunities will be the Overlook Pavilion, where Santa and Mrs. Claus will be greeting visitors in front of a large display of evergreen trees accentuated by the bright color of red-twig dogwood branches,” Reeder said.

Reeder’s role as event and marketing coordinator is to develop the publicity flyer and posters, press release, display ads and radio commercials, as well as post the event on the Arboretum’s website, Facebook page and various online community calendars.

“For the event itself, I arrange for traffic and parking control, meet with any media representatives who attend and take photos to illustrate the event in future marketing materials,” Reeder said.

Shari Edelson, director of horticulture and curator, develops and manages the horticultural and seasonal displays, and works with Alisha Barton, horticulture and plant records coordinator, to plan site logistics, arrange for the performers, stage, chairs, lights and sound system. All Arboretum staff members participate in planning and working at the event.

All these elements would not be in place in time for the event without the assistance of volunteers, who assist with every step in the preparations. The holiday trees, lights, stage equipment and event marketing would not be possible without the monetary support of individual donors, and grant funds made available by the Central Pennsylvania Convention and Visitors Bureau and the Centre County commissioners. This year, Phil Keeney has provided a generous donation to support the Winter Celebration.

“Our expectations are that hundreds of students will welcome the chance to attend this festive event before they begin studying for finals; and hundreds of families from State College, Bellefonte and surrounding areas will come to see the decorations and displays, take photos and listen to the performers,” Reeder said. “It is our hope that many decide to make attending Winter Celebration in the Arboretum’s H.O. Smith Botanic Gardens a tradition that kicks off their holiday season each year.”

If you go

What: The Arboretum at Penn State’s Winter Celebration

When: 5-7 p.m. Dec. 8

Where: The Arboretum at Penn State, University Park

Info: arboretum.psu.edu