Staff set up lights

Heritage Museums & Gardens staff begin setting up lights just after Labor Day

Gardens Aglow at Heritage Museums & Gardens is one of Cape Cod’s favorite annual holiday events. The property is locally famous for its extensive and beautiful collection of rhododendrons, hydrangeas, and other botanical treasures. However, each holiday season after the last flowers have fallen, Heritage Museums & Gardens transforms itself into a brilliant show of lights and entertainment. The 2020 holiday season at Heritage will surely have some differences due to COVID-19, but visitors should still be able to enjoy the best features of Gardens Aglow and have something about which to be merry.

The big difference is that this year, the experience will entirely outdoors so dress for the weather. There will be a warming area and fire pits at the Magnolia Café and another warming area near the center of the grounds, but no indoor areas will be open for business. Allie Mulrow, Program Manager for Gardens Aglow, states that they have tried to preserve the experience by taking the most beloved elements and moving them outside. “I wish I had counted the number of gallons of urethane used to waterproof [the displays] so they will endure the weather.”

In total, Gardens Aglow encompasses about 2/3 mile of walking paths. Those that are unable to walk that far may ride a tram that shuttles guests through the event.

My family and I attend Gardens Aglow every year and it has become one of our favorite Christmas traditions. Although it is sure to be a bit different this year as we all continue to keep our distance from others, it’s nice to see that Christmas is not canceled this year, and the Christmas spirit endures.

What's Open at Gardens Aglow

Labyrinth lights

A child explores the candy cane trees at the labyrinth.

The main features of Gardens Aglow are the light displays throughout the property. Visitors will still be able to walk the grounds and enjoy the Christmas and holiday-themed lights covering the flume, parade field, windmill grounds, labyrinth, and all the walkways in between locations.

The Magnolia Café will be open for hot chocolate, cider, coffee, and a few small snacks during your visit. You may also purchase S’more kits for roasting over one of the several fire pits located at the café. Marshmallows on a stick are complimentary for all guests.

Cape Cod Donuts will have a food truck at the central parade field for those that want to purchase hot donuts. We always enjoy getting hot apple cider with a fresh donut as a signal that the holiday season has arrived. Also on the field will be a warming area and family games and activities including cornhole and hula hoops.

Traditionally, Santa is available for visits at the Heritage Auto Museum which is not open this year in order to adhere to state guidelines regarding COVID-19. However, Santa will still be greeting children and taking orders for presents at the outdoor music stage. It’s a good thing he’s from the North Pole and enjoys the cold weather. In order to stay pandemic-safe, there will be a sheet of plexiglass between Santa and the kiddos, keeping the visits contactless.

New this year is the McGraw Family Garden of the Senses. Originally intended as a way to bypass a steep section of walkway for less physically able guests, this new garden is a feature unto itself and will also be lit for the holidays. It will have a running model train display to entertain children and adult enthusiasts.

While much of the programmed entertainment was canceled this year including ice carving demonstrations and a Nutcracker performance, there will be solo and duo performances by Sandwich Soul, Sandwich High School’s award-winning show choir. This will take place on select evenings. Unfortunately, the entire choir cannot perform together, but at least a little bit of live holiday music can be enjoyed. Liz Forte, Manager of Public Programs for Heritage Museums & Gardens states that they are also working with the Sandwich Arts Alliance to schedule additional performances. More to follow on this subject.

Also new this year is Fireside Cheer, held on the last two evenings (12/26 & 12/27). It includes admission to the 7:30 time slot and an extra hour to enjoy the grounds after closure, from 8:30-9:30. This may be a good option for those that are still a bit uneasy with venturing out into public gatherings. Fireside Cheer includes all the features of Gardens Aglow, plus an included drink and snack at the Magnolia Café.

Games & Activities

Families can use the large building blocks or play games like cornhole on the parade field. A warming area and Cape Cod Donuts is located nearby.

Family Traditions

Family and friends circle around the Christmas lights on display. 

Gardens Transformed

The lush greenery at Heritage Museums & Gardens transforms into a 2/3 mile stretch of holiday lights each December.

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What's Closed During Gardens Aglow

Author and family at Gardens Aglow

My family attends Gardens Aglow every year. You never outgrow tradition.

During a typical year, Heritage Museums & Gardens opens up their indoor spaces during Gardens Aglow. Of course, this is not a typical year and as a result, all indoor museums are closed to viewing. This includes the J.K. Lily III Automobile Gallery, the Special Exhibitions Gallery that in the past has included interactive activities for children and an overhead model train display, and the American Art & Carousel Gallery.

Also, even though located outdoors, Hidden Hollow, Heritage Museums & Gardens space designed for children’s activities, will also be closed. Unfortunately, the toys and built structures located in Hidden Hollow draw children like moths to a flame. Social distancing guidelines would not be practical in such an area.

Purchasing Tickets to Gardens Aglow

No tickets will be sold on the premises. Due to COVID-19 restrictions, all visitors must purchase tickets online, in advance. Attendance is restricted this year, and online ordering ensures that the grounds do not become crowded. All tickets are date and time specific to ensure proper separation of all guests, so be sure to get there on time.

Gardens Aglow takes about 60 minutes to experience. This would include a short break at the Magnolia Café to roast a marshmallow and grab some hot chocolate, or maybe an apple cider donut from the Cape Cod Donut truck.

Get The Gear

It's cold out there, and that skimpy face mask that you've been wearing all summer won't hold up to the New England winter. Get a fleece gaiter or mask and head to Gardens Aglow in comfort. 

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