Merry & Bright Night returns for holiday fun

Published 3:00 pm Thursday, November 30, 2023

Santa Claus is coming to the Jay C. Hormel Nature Center next week.

On Thursday, Dec. 7, the nonprofit Friends of the Hormel Nature Center’s board members and nature center staff will host their second annual Merry & Bright Night’ from 4-7 p.m. as a free holiday event for all ages. Santa and his elves will greet children by the fireplace in the holiday-themed interpretive center, and the Grinch also will roam the building once again. 

A short walk from the interpretive center, Gretchen Erickson, who launched the little libraries throughout Austin and hosts the Reader’s Café for Austin’s summer lunch program, will read stories next to a wood-burning stove in the nature center’s log cabin for a rustic, holiday experience. 

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A large, inflatable Santa will greet attendees outside of the interpretive center that evening. Other offerings will include cookies and refreshments; children’s crafts activities; holiday music, including a 6 p.m. vocal performance by Austin High School’s Austinaires; nature exhibit areas open to the public; plenty of photo-ops; and gifts available for purchase. 

“This was a very fun and festive evening last year that the Friends are excited to bring back,” said Tim Ruzek, president of the Friends. “We strive to get people connected with the nature center in a variety of ways, and ‘Merry & Bright’ proved to be a great way of doing that.”

Merry & Bright is one of the community events that the Friends help organize and support at the nature center during the year, including the Dammen Family Fun Day in the summer and the revived 8K run/walk in October. 

Friends of the Hormel Nature Center also will have a table to sign up people as supporting Friends members. Memberships help support the Friends’ mission to enhance and support the city-owned nature center.

Adding separately to the evening’s holiday festivities two miles away, the Canadian Pacific Holiday Train – a 1,000-foot-long stretch of 14 brightly decorated rail cars –will make a stop at 5 p.m. Thursday on Austin’s east side at 550 11th St. N.E. It will offer live entertainment and collect donations for local food banks. This is an outdoors-only event; people are not allowed on the train.