By Kit-Bacon Gressitt
Chinese immigrant brings Global Winter Wonderland to SDCCU Stadium
Lulu Huang traveled to the United States from China for a visit in 1994 – and she’s still here today. Instead of returning to her homeland, she started a computer company, had two kids and became inspired.
“[I] wanted to do something for children,” Huang said. She decided to start a cultural experience that was fun and educational.
Many years before, Huang had seen China’s Lantern Festival, a tradition that is more than 2,000 years old.
“I never can forget that,” she said. “It was amazing how it was built.”
That amazement stayed with her. Eventually, Global Winter Wonderland – Huang’s product of motherhood, memory and her entrepreneurial spirit – was born. The festival recreates holiday celebrations from around the world, represented by vibrant, handmade illuminated lanterns. They range in size, with some as tall as 20 feet.
Produced by her Fremont, California-based company, International Culture Exchange Group Inc. (ICEG), the festival is more than a lantern light show. The event is a multicultural theme park that includes rides, international cuisines and entertainment from an array of cultures.
This November, the event will bring its magic to San Diego. Global Winter Wonderland opens Nov. 19 at SDCCU Stadium (formerly Qualcomm Stadium) and runs through Jan. 7, 2018.
“After my children were born, I see the world through [their] eyes,” Huang said. “Some kids never have the opportunity to travel internationally. I want them to be able to see other cultures.”
Now San Diegan children will have that same chance. While this is the festival’s first venture into Southern California, ICEG has produced Global Winter Wonderland in various California and Georgia cities since 2011.
This year’s theme, “Celebrating Holidays Around the World!” is apropos. Visitors can expect to see huge steel-and-silk lantern displays that reflect holiday themes and landmarks in Thailand, Japan, Germany, Chile, Brazil, Egypt and Mexico, among other countries.
The family-friendly entertainment – Circus of Light – includes fire juggling, hoop diving, Cyr wheel and stilt walking, with performers from Africa, China and the Polynesian islands.
For those eager for typical carnival fare, there will be 35 rides, including a Ferris wheel, Zipper, Drop Zone and Starship. Rides are not included with general admission tickets, but season passes allow unlimited access.
Children 3 years old and younger, expectant mothers, and guests with casts are not permitted on the rides. However, there will be bounce houses for children not tall enough for the more vigorous attractions.
It is the lanterns, though, that are the focal point of Global Winter Wonderland. Their creation is a complex process that spans the Pacific Ocean, from creative design to construction to installation in San Diego. Real and fantastic animals, historic and exotic structures, and landscapes are crafted by skilled artisans in steel, silk, and a variety of recycled materials.
“Some structures are built in China by artisans working for two months,” Huang explained. “They fill 20 shipping containers. I have in the U.S. now over 100 artisans – 56 coming to San Diego at the [SDCCU] Stadium by the end of October [to complete the installations].”
In addition to exposing children to world cultures, Huang has also incorporated environmental concerns in her company’s vision. This is reflected in the use of reused materials in the lanterns. One example is the San Diego festival’s dragon lantern, which will have scales made of recycled CDs.
While other lantern festivals can be found in the U.S., Huang believes Global Winter Wonderland offers the largest display of Chinese lanterns outside of China, which will be spread across SDCCU Stadium’s 17-acre campus.
In addition to the lantern festival, rides and food, families should also keep an eye out for Santa, who will be greeting visiting children; carnival games; arts and crafts opportunities; a holiday gift market; and Penny the Penguin, the festival’s mascot.
The festival runs on weekends and select dates through the winter holidays.
General admission tickets are $22 for adults and $19 for children and seniors. Season passes are $49 for adults and $44 for children and seniors. Tickets can be purchased online at GlobalWonderland.com and at the gate.
— Kit-Bacon Gressitt formerly wrote for the North County Times. She currently writes commentary and essays on her blog ExcuseMeImWriting.com and is a founding editor of WritersResist.com. She also hosts Fallbrook’s monthly Writers Read authors series and open mic. Reach her at email@example.com.