Dolly Parton on Her Vision for the Holidays at Dollywood: 'A Winter Christmas Wonderland'

Dollywood's Smoky Mountain Christmas runs through Jan. 2, 2022, at Parton’s theme park in Pigeon Forge, Tennessee

Dolly Parton
Photo: Curtis Hilbun/Dollywood

When Dolly Parton dreamed up Dollywood's Smoky Mountain Christmas, she wanted to marry the idyllic Hallmark movie Christmas vision with her family's Appalachian Christmas traditions to create unforgettable holiday memories for guests of all ages.

"My hope was that people could come as a family and experience what they fantasize Christmas being," Parton tells PEOPLE of the holiday celebration, which runs through Jan 2. at her fan-favorite theme park in Pigeon Forge, Tennessee.

"We all have our personal Christmases, but we also have that thought of what we see on TV or what we read in books of those great old Christmases. In addition to bringing our own Christmas to life, we wanted to have it like a fairytale," the PEOPLE's People of the Year honoree, 75, continues. "Truly a winter Christmas wonderland."

More than 100 miles of Christmas lights hand-wrapped around thousands of trees and intricately strung on buildings, nightly Christmas parades, synchronized light shows and elaborate fireworks displays combined with Dollywood's nine original holiday shows and world-class cuisine create the park's signature Christmas experience.


Dollywood has an extensive lineup of festivals throughout the year, including the Flower & Food Festival, Summer Celebration and Harvest Festival, but Smoky Mountain Christmas is the park's most popular.

"Christmas will always be king for us as far as festivals," says Vice President of Marketing and Public Relations, Pete Owens.

Each section of the park is themed for the holidays. The Country Fair area is transformed into Peppermint Valley and swathed in red and white ribbon and twinkling lights, jewel tones define Dollywood's Show Street, and Rivertown pairs traditional mountain décor with a warm glow reminiscent of candlelight.


Glacier Ridge, presented by Goo Goo Cluster, transforms Dollywood's Timber Canyon, Wildwood Grove, Wilderness Pass and Upper Craftsman's Valley into an expansive arctic experience. Thousands of lights synchronized to music adorn a long tunnel that transports guests to the icicles and blue hues of the Arctic.

Dollywood's Special Events Supervisor Dalton Mitchell says the "Northern Lights," another overhead synchronized light display, is the can't-miss feature at Smoky Mountain Christmas.

"It recreates what it would be like to see the northern lights above your head," he explains. "It's really cool we can bring that experience to an area of the park where people travel through."

Another signature holiday experience is the Wonderful Christmas! Plaza Tree Show, which features a 50-ft. tall animated tree brought to life by a high-tech light show.


Decorating Dollywood for Christmas starts months in advance, and in some cases, lights never come down. Mitchell explained that some of the trees are adorned with lights that expand as the trees grow, so workers never have to unwind them from the branches — they just do some touch-up work as the holidays approach. In other areas, they start from scratch.

"Installation is a lot of early mornings and overnights," Mitchell says. "They tuck in Christmas lights out of direct eyesight and just inch that around the park as we go along."

The park closes for one week between Harvest Festival and Smoky Mountain Christmas, and teams spend about 5,000 man-hours switching up the harvest décor and bringing in the thousands of Christmas trees, wreaths, bows and more.

But the park's dedication to Christmas is deeper than aesthetics. Dollywood also adds seasonal menu items, including braised short ribs and lobster bisque, and rotates its shows for a festive flair.


"Christmas in the Smokies" is the park's main production and has been a family favorite for more than 30 years. Other holiday offerings include "Appalachian Christmas with the Smoky Mountain String Band," "The Candlelight Carolers," "Christmas in the Smokies," "Christmas with the Kingdom Heirs," and "'Twas the Night Before Christmas."

"Many of our guests have made these performances part of their annual holiday traditions for decades. Multiple generations of guests — and even Dollywood performers — have grown up with this show," says Paige Bales, a former performer who is now the park's entertainment director.

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Dollywood's president Eugene Naughton said all aspects of Dollywood work together to create unforgettable Christmas memories for guests.

"The festival is a core attribute of how we're lifting the new levels," he says. "What's different for us is its entertainment, its culinary experiences as well as the on-ground experiences. It puts us in a different place compared to most."

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