It is the stuff fairy tales are made of – tens of thousands of twinkling lights, charming old-world Christmas décor, Santa’s workshop, tea or hot chocolate and a sweet treat in a splendid dining room that oozes grace and charm. Milner Christmas Magic is one of those marvellous annual family-oriented Christmas fixtures on Vancouver Island that draws thousands of patrons to Milner Gardens in Qualicum Beach year after year.
Milner Gardens and Woodland is an historic 70-acre (28 hectare) estate perched on a bluff overlooking the Strait of Georgia. The majority of the property is in old-growth forest with a long winding driveway that leads to the gracious waterfront home, which is surrounded by 10 acres (4 hectares) of woodland garden. For most of the year the property, which is owned and managed by Vancouver Island University, serves as the site for fine weather events such as art shows, weddings, garden-oriented happenings and a variety of other functions. Come December, however, it is transformed into a Christmas wonderland that offers a large variety of old-fashioned attractions for all ages.
Milner Christmas Magic is in to its tenth year and each year it gets better, offers more. There is the cozy gardener’s cottage crammed full of teddy bears of every shape and size, and Santa’s workshop is set up nearby. Library volunteers read fairy tales in the main house while youngsters sprawl comfortably on cushions and blankets. The beautifully-decorated Camellia Tea Room, also in the main house, offers warm beverages, snacks and a sit-down, and along the hall the Christmas gift shop is overflowing with unique offerings (including goodies made on-site). Each evening there is also live music featured in the main house, ranging from chamber singers to jazz to a harpist.
The old pool house, located up the driveway from the house, is now a permanent gift shop and also features a cornucopia of gift ideas. And, of course, there are the thousands and thousands of coloured Christmas lights that adorn the trees and bushes, the driveway and pretty much every building on the estate. It is a spectacular display involving an enormous amount of effort – 1,000 volunteer hours estimated at last count, including everyone from those who put up the light displays to the lovely ladies in the tea room.
What makes this series of festive weekends so special, though, is the relaxed pace, the emphasis on family and the gracious charm of an old-fashioned Christmas. It is the kind of stuff you read about in novels but never expect to experience in real life – a lovely step back in time to a gentler era, and a happy deviation from the rush and bustle of the modern day festive season.
Milner Christmas Magic 2013 kicks off at 5 pm on Friday, December 6 and runs each consecutive weekend until December 22.