When I heard Dollywood’s General Manager talking about how he was on the original Christmas-light-hanging crew, I knew I needed to know more. Gene Scherrer is now Dollywood’s General Manager. He’ll be retiring at the end of this season. But, in 1990, he was on the Attractions and Special Events team. Gene recalls how Dollywood’s management wanted a special festival for the Christmas season—and he was one of the Dollywood hosts tasked with deciding where lights would be placed.
Dollywood’s Smoky Mountain Christmas is a 12-time (and ONLY!) Golden Ticket Award-winner for Best Theme Park Christmas Event. When the festival started 30 years ago, only Rivertown Junction, The Village and some of Craftsman’s Valley was decorated. Fast forward to 2019 and Dollywood boasts more than 5 MILLION lights throughout the entire park. Fun fact: when it began, all the lights on the buildings were clear. Now, there’s color galore!
I wanted to do a quick compare and contrast of where our Christmas festival started versus where it is today, so Alex Lambert and I went digging through Dollywood’s archives. When we got to the 1990 bin, we only found film-ha! We continued looking and we finally found a tape we could watch from 1992. That was the year we opened Showstreet. Though it’s not the first year of Smoky Mountain Christmas, it gives you a good idea of how far we’ve come. Check out this video!