Dazzling Winter Lights & Creative Gingerbread Houses Bring Christmas Cheer - TribPapers

Dazzling Winter Lights & Creative Gingerbread Houses Bring Christmas Cheer

This stag is one of the many beautifully lit animals you will see in the gardens. Photos courtesy of the North Carolina Arboretum.

Asheville – Two Christmas events are noteworthy in Western North Carolina, and they both just began: the North Carolina Arboretum’s Winter Lights and the Omni Grove Park Inn’s annual National Gingerbread House Competition™.  Both events are eye-catching and thrilling to see; both draw many visitors from all around the area and are well worth putting on your calendar to attend. This will be the ninth year of The North Carolina Arboretum’s Holiday Light Show, where more than one million lights with multiple holiday displays are placed throughout their campus for visitors to enjoy as they walk through the dazzling displays of lit trees and animal creatures. This year’s theme is “Forest and Garden Enchantment.” A little further south on Sunset Mountain, the 30th National Gingerbread House Competition™ has just started at the Omni Grove Park Inn Hotel on Macon Avenue in Asheville. The competition’s prestigious panel of judges, which includes TV Star Chef Carla Hall, is only now announcing their first winner.

A dazzling display of lights can be seen as you walk though this winter wonderland. Photo courtesy of NC Arboretum.
A dazzling display of lights can be seen as you walk though this winter wonderland. Photo courtesy of NC Arboretum.

The hotel puts on display a number of amazing gingerbread houses created by artists of all ages. They have been working on them for months. The displays will show whimsical, fanciful, and elaborate handmade edible gingerbread houses of every size, shape, and theme. Many are scattered throughout the hotel and on the 7th floor. There are adorable rustic cabins, ornate castles, and breathtaking sugar-spun landscapes. This year, a new format is being used to announce the winners. A winner will be announced every day—virtually. With “The 12 Days of Gingerbread,” the hotel will be releasing one of the top 12 finalists per day on the hotel’s Facebook (@omnigroveparkinn) and Instagram (@omnigrovepark) channels from December 1–12, 2022. The prize money has increased to more than $40,000 this year in appreciation for the time, energy, and effort that went into making these decorative pieces.

The North Carolina Arboretum’s Winter Lights Festival

Winter Lights is a heavenly walk-through experience in and around the Arboretum’s many garden areas, which are located at 100 Frederick Law Olmsted Way, in Asheville, 28806. The beautiful displays cannot help but awe and delight the entire family for the evening. However, be sure to dress warmly with comfortable shoes for maximum enjoyment. As you walk through the Quilt Garden and along other pathways, forest creatures will catch your eye in their various colors—the Happy Caterpillar, the delightful Christmas gnomes in colorful hats and beards, butterflies, and the beloved unicorn can be seen prancing through this Winter Wonderland. If it gets a bit chilly that night, there will be firepits and heaters throughout the gardens. S’mores kits are even available for purchase at the Bent Creek Bistro. Perhaps a leisurely sit-down around a warm fire would revive you before moving on to another garden.

The 2021 Child Category (5-8 years of age) gingerbread house winner was created by Parker Webster of Greenville. South Carolina. Photo courtesy of Omni Grove Park Inn.
The 2021 Child Category (5-8 years of age) gingerbread house winner was created by Parker Webster of Greenville. South Carolina. Photo courtesy of Omni Grove Park Inn.

A number of activities are taking place throughout the arboretum. The well-loved g-scale model train is offering nightly service to the North Pole. All Aboard. Live musical performances are scheduled nightly at 7:00 PM at this Education Center, near Bent Creek Bistro. A wide variety of performers will be bringing music to be enjoyed—from old school country to honky-tonk as well as Appalachian Americana sounds. Their schedules can be found online. In addition, at the Educational Center, one can catch a glimpse of the window display, which follows a young bear’s journey to discover new habitats.

Tickets are on sale now for the event, which will be held nightly from November 18–December 31, including Thanksgiving and Christmas Day, with tickets purchased per vehicle and all passengers admitted for a single price. Time slots range from 6:00 p.m. to 9:00 p.m., with specific entry times at 6 p.m., 7 p.m., and 8 p.m. Tickets are sold in a three-tiered system that is based on the date guests want to attend, with off-peak dates costing less than those most popular. The Arboretum strongly recommends purchasing tickets in advance online, as nights at Winter Lights do sell out. Visit the website at www.ncarboretum.org/winter-lights/tickets or call the Arboretum 9 AM-5 PM 7 days a week at 828. 665-2492.   The recommended best address for GPS is:   20 Frederick Law Olmsted Way Asheville, NC 28806

The National Gingerbread House Competition

Amazing creations of edible gingerbread houses by hundreds of competitors of all ages have filled the ballrooms of the Omni Grove Park Inn hotel at 290 Macon Avenue, in Asheville. Hotel guests and visitors can’t help but be amazed by the many creative gingerbread houses they are able to see. The youngest category is the Child Category, open to individuals between 5 and 8 years of age entering as a single entrant or team. All entries are judged on five criteria: 1) Overall Appearance, 2) Originality and Creativity, 3) Difficulty, 4) Precision, and 5) Consistency of Theme Everything above the base of the entry must be composed entirely of edible materials. The main structure of the entry must be constructed of at least 75% gingerbread, some of which should be exposed.

The competition’s legacy is built on design, innovation, and tradition that continues for future generations. This competition began in 1992 and has grown to be recognized throughout the United States and has merited broadcast coverage by NBC’s Today Show, ABC’s Good Morning America, The Travel Channel, and The Food Network.

Limited Public Viewing

The Omni Grove Park Inn’s official 2022 Gingerbread display will be open for viewing on November 28, 2022, and will run through Monday, January 2, 2023. Non-resort guests are welcome to view the display after 6:00 p.m. on Sundays or anytime Monday through Thursday, subject to parking availability and excluding holidays and the following dates: December 23, 24, 25, 30, 31, and January 1.All Fridays and Saturdays are reserved for registered resort guests and those who have confirmed dining reservations. Display access is subject to hotel capacity, including pedestrian traffic.


Both Christmas events mentioned here are well worth a visit and will add to anyone’s holiday festivities. Viewing the 50-foot-high lighted tree off in the distance is thrilling at the Arboretum, as is the overall ambiance with dazzling, enchanting, twinkling lights and Christmas music wafting in the background. One cannot help but be enchanted and mesmerized by the transformation in the gardens.
Seeing the creative gingerbread houses at the Omni Grove Park Inn will undoubtedly put you in a festive holiday mood too. There is an adult category (18 or older). Teen age group (13-17), Youth age group (9-12), or Child age group (5-8). The entrant may have entered on his or her own or as part of a team with friends. Last year’s first-place Gingerbread House Child Category winner was Parker Webster of Greenville, South Carolina, for his “Zoom with Santa.” Wonder who will win this year?