If you’re looking for a memorable, festive, fun, tasty, entertaining, and exciting way to celebrate the holidays, we can agree that Dollywood has those bases covered, right?
Where else can you go to experience a jolly holiday amidst the splendor of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, with thrilling rides and attractions; plenty of live shows with spectacular music, dancing, and elaborate sets; tasty treats; happy visits with reindeer, snowmen, and Santa and his elves; and more than four million dazzling lights eclipsed only by a gleaming nighttime Christmas parade to ensure it all ends on a high note you’ll never forget?
It’s true – a day spent experiencing a Smoky Mountain Christmas at Dollywood will definitely check off all of those boxes and more! There is no better way to create beautiful memories your family can enjoy for a lifetime.
But, what if you have experienced all of this fabulousness, and yet find yourself searching for something… well, a little bit “more”?
“More what?” you might ask. “Isn’t all of this enough?”
Well, for many it is, I suppose. But the truth is, like me, you may find that all of that excitement and wonder still leaves you a little empty. But here’s the good news: if you’re looking for something “more,” something “real,” something “true,” you may find something in a Smoky Mountain Christmas at Dollywood for which you didn’t even know you were searching…
You may have already figured out that I’m talking about the “true meaning” of Christmas – not the flash and dash and glitz and sparkle of the holiday – but the spirit of love, peace, and unity that we hope for within the hearts of all, not only at this time of year, but always.
I want to get a little more personal with you here, and share something that happened to me last year when I was visiting Dollywood during the Christmas season.
This visit also happened to be right after the wildfires that burned many acres of the Great Smoky Mountain National Park. As you know, Dolly Parton and the Dollywood Foundation organized a telethon fundraiser and donated millions of dollars to aid so many in the recovery efforts during and after the fires. What she has done for this region over the years is, quite simply, phenomenal. She has been and continues to be such a blessing to so many.
I had been invited to Dollywood to cover a story for Dollywood Insiders just after Dollywood had reopened. I stayed at Dollywood’s DreamMore Resort and Spa, which was beautifully decorated for Christmas. I remember that it was a very emotional time: a time when guests were sharing this resort and mingling with many of the firefighters who had traveled long distances to fight the fires. It was incredibly heart-stirring to talk to them and people who lived in the area, and hear their stories of courage, strength, and hope in the face of such loss.
As I began to wander back toward my room from a long, tiring day, I walked through the lobby once more, noticing the cozy setting by the fireplace for guests to meet Santa, and of course, have a photo made with him.
I had watched several families take advantage of it throughout the evening as I walked around taking pictures and enjoying the sights, sounds, and overall joy that the entire scene exuded. Even after everything everyone had been through that week with the fires, evacuation, and dealing with the loss, the Christmas Spirit could be found all around.
The Dollywood hosts were going out of their way to make sure that everyone visiting was able to enjoy and escape their own troubles for a while (isn’t that why we vacation?), even in the midst of all of their own personal challenges. It was so touching – so meaningful.
But now, as I walked past this precious Santa scene, I found it so inviting that I just couldn’t resist. It was almost time for them to close up shop, and the lobby was looking a little empty, so I decided, “Hey! I need a picture with Santa! It’s been a loooooooooooong time since the jolly old elf and I have had a chat. Too long.” So, as I walked by, they said hello. I asked if I could have a picture with Santa, promising not to actually sit on his lap.
Santa smiled and his eyes smiled merrily as he said, “Young lady, come right over here! I have a seat for you right here upon my knee!” I protested, but he insisted, and as I sat down, his dutiful “elves” started snapping photos right and left.
He looked at me earnestly and asked, “So, what do you want from Santa this year?”
I hadn’t even thought about being asked that question, but caught up in the emotion of the day and in the moment I just blurted out the first thing that popped into my head, “I want everyone here to have a home, their own home, to go to as soon as possible!”
And then we both started crying.
And he gave me a little squeeze around the shoulders, and said, “Me too, my dear, me too.”
And I cried a few seconds more, as we just sat there, pondering it all. I asked him, in a moment of “reality” if he was really okay, and he told me that yes, he was, but that he knew many who had suffered loss.
And then he said, “So, young lady, let me ask you another question. Do you know the REAL reason that we celebrate this joyous holiday? Do you know what Christmas is really all about?”
And I said, “Yes sir, I do know, because I know Jesus Christ as my Lord and Savior.”
And he hugged me so tight – and he said, “I knew you knew. Don’t ever let anything dampen the joy that comes from knowing this! Jesus IS the Reason for the Season!”
More tears. More hugs. And snap, click, snap went the elves.
So, a sobbing mess, I went over to the desk to check out the photos, knowing they’d be horrendous, knowing my eyes would be red, and that I would be so awkward-looking. But when I saw this one photo, I knew I had to have it.
And then, the elf printing my photo said, “Ma’am, let me tell you what happened earlier tonight. As we were setting up, there was a young boy watching and waiting for Santa the entire time. As soon as Santa arrived, he was the first one to sit on his lap. Santa asked him, “And what can Santa bring for you this year, young man?
“And the little boy, who was around 4 or 5 years old, looked seriously up into Santa’s eyes, pointed his finger at him, and said, “Santa Claus? I want you be really good to Dolly this year! She’s been SO good to all of us here, she deserves for you to be EXTRA good to her!”
She said there wasn’t a dry eye to be found. And mine didn’t dry up for quite a while, either.
You know, Dolly Parton has been quoted as saying, “I always ask God to work through me and let me be a light of some kind and help in this world, so I always pray for that, and I always want to do good.”
I truly believe this light comes from Christ, and it shines through at Dollywood. This is the celebration of the “true meaning of Christmas,” which I have come to know and experience every year when my family and I make time to visit during the very special Smoky Mountain Christmas at Dollywood.