Natural Christmas: Nature Center will celebrate the holidays, inside and out

Published 7:00 pm Wednesday, November 23, 2022

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What seems like a natural fit for the institution, the Jay C. Hormel Nature Center will be hosting a special holiday event early next month.

From 4-8 p.m. on Dec. 8, the Nature Center is inviting people to visit its newest offering in the form of the Merry and Bright Night. With a cache of events, the Nature Center is preparing a night people won’t soon forget, just be sure to dress appropriately.

“You will want to dress for the weather,” said Naturalist and Office Manager Julie Champlain. “It’s important that people know there are inside and outside events.”

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The Nature Center is following up on a recent tradition of being part of Christmas in the East. However, with the umbrella event Christmas in the City no longer an event, the Nature Center chose to create its own event and expand it from what they had to include opportunities outside.

“The whole idea here is to provide a very positive experience during the holidays both inside and out,” Champlain said.

The indoor events will look simliar to what they had in the past, including crafts like making a bird feeder using sun butter. However, there will also be performances from a variety of different places.

The Matchbox Children’s Theatre will have two performances of “Winnie the Pooh’s Christmas Tale,” at 5:30 and 6:30 p.m. In between those two showings, at 6 p.m., will be Austin High School’s Austinaires.

At the same time, the theater troupe, The Pallet Players will be performing in the amphitheater area toward the back of the Interpretive Center.

And while you’re outside, consider taking part in the other activities of Merry and Bright Night including stories being told in the Nature Center’s log cabin.

And if the mood is right, take the opportunity to go for a walk.

Payton Christianson spreads peanut butter on a pine cone to make a bird feeder at the Jay C. Hormel Nature Center during a past Christmas in the East. The craft returns as a way to help feed our feathered friends in the backyard.

“We are going to light the trail out to the log cabin, past the Sugar Shack and back around,” Champlin said.

Other activities include more storytelling by Lisa Deyo of Sweet Reads Books & Candy store, and free raffles throughout the night. There’s also going to be an Ugly Sweater contest with awards being given out for Ugliest, Uglier and Ugly sweaters.

But those, in some ways, are only the opening act because also making a visit during a very busy time of year is the Jolly Old Elf himself, Santa Claus.

“The big thing is Santa will be here and you can come and take photos of your family with Santa by the fireplace,” Champlain said.

The entire afternoon and evening is part of a larger effort by the Nature Center and the Friends of the Nature Center Board, who will all be in attendance on Dec. 8,  to ensure that there was a holiday event at the Nature Center.

Not only is it a chance to help people get into the holiday spirit, but it’s a chance to highlight what the Nature Center has away from Christmas-themed events.

Among those is the newly created mussel exhibit that was unveiled earlier this year.

“We’re also going to have the exhibit area open,” Champlain said, who is a member of the Merry & Bright Night committee. “A lot of people haven’t seen the mussels exhibit. We’ll have everything decorated and we have a couple backdrops that people can take family photos (in front of).”

Not to mention that the Nature Center is a unique experience during the fall and winter months. At least six inches of snow will ensure people can take part in snowshoeing and cross country skiing.

Both events are offered on Fridays for free along with extended hours from 3-6 p.m. And with the recent addition of the facilities Track Chairs last year, even more people can get out and experience the change of seasons.

It lends well to the Nature Center’s goals of ensuring that people have experiences both inside and outside of the Nature Center.

“We didn’t just want it to be indoors and we wanted to combine the outside experience,” Champlin said. “We’re Minnesotans and we’re not afraid to go for a walk and ski in the dark. In the next 50 years we want to provide community experiences with nature education.”

Merry & Bright Night is just another opportunity for people to get outside and use the Nature Center’s resources, especially around the holidays.

“People who have come home for the holidays like to come and see what’s happening here, especially the grandchildren. We see a lot of mini-family reunions. If it’s cold they come in and see the snake, play in the kids room and see Guka,” Champlain said. “We see this as an alternative for colder days when you can come and sit by the fireplace. We do really see a lot of families come back when they are visiting grandma and grandpa and they want some place to go.”