With last year’s inaugural holiday event hailed a major success, the Marietta Square is looking to add more magic to its Winter Wonderland event this year with a new village for Santa Claus, more children’s activities and an extended ice skating rink available through February.

Coordinated by The Branding Project, a nonprofit business league created by business owners of the Marietta Square to promote the area as a shopping, dining and entertainment ​destination, this year’s seasonal event launched Friday, Nov. 18, 2016 with ice skating in Glover Park featuring expanded viewing areas.

Arriving Dec. 1, 2016, Santa will help light the great tree signaling the countdown to Christmas. Families will now have the option of booking their Santa visit online at winterwonderlandmarietta.com, though walk-ups are still welcome. Kids can also spend time with the Jolly Old Elf in his new outpost in Glover Park designed by Lisa Rispoli and her team at Happily Ever After Productions.

Chuck Burge, CEO of CBurge Events, has been working on new and exciting additions to this year’s event since early summer and encourages Marietta business leaders to get involved, as it’s a fantastic opportunity not only to advertise a business, but also reinvigorate interest in the community. “One of [the business owners on the Square] said in the 38 years he’s been open, the New Year’s Eve event was the best he has ever had,” Burge notes.

While merchants on the Square have been involved since the beginning, because of the success of last year, more businesses are getting on board. The New Year’s Eve event alone saw about 25,000 attendees throughout the day and approximately 10,000 for the ball drop. “Because of the success, and because [New Year’s Eve is] on a Saturday and not a Thursday, we’re expecting closer to 40,000 people,” says Burge.

A New Home for Santa

After more than two decades of creating one-of-a-kind props, window displays and animatronic characters for entertainment giants like Disney, Universal Studios and the Waldorf Astoria New York hotel, Rispoli has brought her talents to Marietta to create a life-size city for Santa Claus.

Last year, she and her new business partner, Linda Williams, helped create an animated toy store for the Holiday Lights of Hope in Woodstock, a fundraiser for Anna Crawford Children’s Center, a nonprofit dedicated to preventing child abuse and neglect. They realized soon after they wanted to focus their business on expanding family traditions and bringing communities together. “Marietta has always had a tradition, especially with the holidays,” says Rispoli, who adds that Williams, a septuagenarian, used to visit the Square for holidays as a child. “At that time, families would travel to the Marietta Square to experience the tradition. Now, it’s all coming back. It’s a renaissance. And we want to be part of the fabric that will help grow and sustain this.”

After connecting with Burge, Rispoli worked with his team and The Branding Project to design and build the new village, accented with animatronics, such as the little polar bear postmen that send off packages from the Post Office to the North Pole. “It harkens back to a simpler time,” she says. “We live in a very disposable era, and we’re trying to make something that is lasting, something that will be appreciated over time. There’s a reason these things pull at people’s heartstrings.”

Alongside the Post Office, a giant holiday package serves as a kiosk for check-ins to see Santa in his cozy new home. Of the three life-size buildings she created for the display, Rispoli admits it’s tough to pick a favorite, but the Santa house warms her heart. “It’s going to give that feeling that you’re sitting in Santa’s home at the North Pole,” she says. “Also, there’s a lot of things for kids to interact with as they wait to sit on the big man’s lap.”

New Years Eve

After a surprise aerial performance during last year’s ball drop, this year’s celebration has everyone buzzing about what to expect New Year’s Eve.

From ice-carving contests to roaming magicians, the Marietta Square will be bustling with activities and entertainment options for all ages. Guests are encouraged to write resolutions on the Resolution Wall, play an 18-hole glow-in-the-dark putt-putt golf game, enjoy food trucks and even test their skill in an escape room experience.

In addition, the new family-oriented activities will include carnival games, on-stage demonstrations for children and live music; and daytime events will be capped off with the “Herd of Cows” dance troupe and the Children’s Cow Drop, where one lucky winner gets free Chick-fil-A for a year.

After the sun goes down, the adult celebration begins. Live music and a surprise drop will ring in 2017 in style.

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