winter wonderfest 2020

For those willing to take a little road trip down to southern Delaware, there's still time to go check out a great holiday attraction in Sussex County that also helps makes contributions to the community.

"Winter WonderFEST is a seven-week-long holiday festival that raises money for Sussex County charities through a grant program, and we fund our grant program by producing this incredible Christmas event," said event director Peter Briccotto. "Traditionally, on a normal, non-COVID year, we feature four attractions, including an open-air ice rink, a Christmas carnival, [a] Christmas village which is like a replica of a New England town for everyone to walk through and enjoy, and of course our light spectacular, which is over a mile of Christmas lights to drive through."

This year, COVID-19 has reduced the attraction to just the drive-thru portion, but Briccotto said organizers have expanded the event to continue drawing crowds, and even installed a few surprises. 

"For this year, we went to a 100% drive-thru experience," he said. "We feature our traditional light spectacular drive-thru--but we have a grand finale, a drive-thru of Santa's Secret Elf Village and Santa's Workshop, and this year, after the holidays, our friends from Frozen are coming down to greet every car as Santa and Mrs. Claus get a well-deserved break."

Whether those interested want to get down in time to see Santa or wait until December 26th for a visit with Else and friends, the attraction is only open through January 2nd, so be sure to head over soon. 

Despite challenges presented by the pandemic, Briccotto said they're setting new records and hope to be able to raise more money than ever before. 

"We've seen more light shows than ever pop up across the region, which is great to bring everybody holiday cheer, and even though we're in a little tiny market down at the beach, we've welcomed already over 13,000 vehicles, which is a new record for us," he said. "And we will be able to still--against the odds this year, with funding being limited and the challenges of COVID--still be able to raise money for our grant fund, thanks to this new record."

Monies raised go to a grant program supporting charities around Sussex County, and to improving the event for future years. 

"This year, our goal is to raise $50,000 for our grant program, and we'll announced that later this spring, but we fund capital equipment grants to Sussex County charities. We hope to raise $50,000 for that," Briccotto said. "Then we also hope to raise $25,000 to be allocated for a new attraction next year at Winter WonderFEST 2021; fingers crossed we can get back to normal life and expand our festival yet again. And then we also need to raise about $40,000 for power upgrades, so that we can have an even bigger light show next year. So that those are our three goals this year."

Winter WonderFEST costs $25 for a carload of up to seven people, and takes about 25 minutes to drive through. It took a lot of work to put together, and on a shortened timeline. 

"This year, our number one challenge was, of course, raising money to do it. We couldn't announce our event until the end of September to make sure that we had a good safety plan in place and the sponsorship lined up to do the event," Briccotto said. "It does take us about two weeks to get this show up. We have to run over 25,000 feet of cord through the fields and put together the light displays because they come in three tractor trailers, in sections, and we've got to put them together like a puzzle. And then of course, other than myself, it's a 100% volunteer operation, so from everybody setting up the lights to all of our folks working the gate and welcoming folks to the Santa's Workshop area, they're all volunteers, so as COVID did come around this year we had to make sure our volunteers could stay safe and excited, and make sure that we had enough of them to produce the event safely."

Despite the challenges, Winter WonderFEST has been a success, and there's still time to check it out.

"So far, everything has gone extraordinarily well and we're really thankful to everybody who's still supported us, given the challenging times this year."

For more information or to purchase tickets, visit WonderfestDE.org.