In a heartwarming tradition spanning more than two decades, the Salvation Army church on North East Road in Sholing has once again transformed into a festive haven, enchanting over 300 attendees at its annual Santa’s Grotto and Winter Wonderland event.
The star of the show is not just Santa, but the imaginative displays crafted by an 83-year-old artisan who has been the creative force behind Winter Wonderland for an impressive 24 years. Drawing from a decade-long experience as a groundskeeper at Marwell Zoo, this creative mind infuses the event with animatronic characters like penguins, polar bears, and reindeer. The result is a magical experience that captures the hearts of children and adults alike.
When asked about the inspiration behind the designs, the creator shared, “I just like to get creative and see what festive designs come out of it. Witnessing the next generation of children joining the festivities is very special indeed.” The artisan attributes creative flair to time spent at Marwell Zoo, where contributions extended to building festive displays.
The Winter Wonderland is more than just a visual spectacle; it is a labour of love that takes a team of four volunteers three weeks to construct. Many of the props used in the display have a rich history, originating from the artisan’s time at Marwell Zoo.
Church leadership expressed gratitude for the creator’s commitment, stating, “We’re fortunate to have this creative mind and their dedication to making our church on North East Road a very special place this time of year.” Emphasizing the event’s significance for the local community, they remarked, “We have again welcomed more than 300 Sholing locals into our brilliant grotto.”
One of the most endearing aspects of the event is witnessing the joyous reactions of children as they explore Santa’s Grotto. The creator shared that these reactions are the “highlight of it all,” noting, “When coming up with the designs, there are some preconceived ideas, but some work and others don’t. It’s wonderful to bring something magical yet affordable to the Sholing children and residents.”
Adding to the festive atmosphere, the church hall was adorned with Christmas trees individually decorated by local schools, community groups, and charities. Various organizations participated in the tree decorating tradition.
The thoughtful touch extends beyond decorations to the gifts distributed in Santa’s Grotto. Each toy is carefully chosen to be age-appropriate, ranging from toy cars to footballs and home craft kits. This attention to detail ensures that every child leaves with a cherished memory and a meaningful keepsake from the Winter Wonderland.
Church leadership shared a heartwarming anecdote, stating, “A two-year-old visitor came to see Santa and was overjoyed with their new toy truck.” The event not only spreads festive cheer but also contributes to the community by offering a magical experience that is affordable for Sholing’s children and residents.
As the Winter Wonderland draws to a close for the year, the final opportunity to experience its enchantment is on December 23. Entry is priced at £6 per child and £1 per adult, with all proceeds dedicated to supporting the church and charitable initiatives. The event serves as a testament to the power of community, creativity, and the enduring spirit of giving during the holiday season in Sholing.