Winterval In Waterford, Ireland

Winterval In Waterford—A Traditional Christmas Fair With A Modern Twist

“You have to see the light show, Mammy! Santa dances to ‘Uptown Funk’ at the end…

“And you know that place in town that says it has the best hot chocolate in the world? It doesn’t. I’ll take you to the man who makes the best.”

My 8-year-old son, Neal, had just returned from a wander with his Beaver Scouts group through Ireland‘s Christmas festival, “Winterval.” And he couldn’t wait to return and bring along the rest of the family.

Based around the “Viking Triangle” in our home town of Waterford City, Winterval has all the usual trappings of a traditional Christmas festival. And, as suggested by Santa getting into his groove for “Uptown Funk,” it brings a modern and fun twist to the festivities.

Now in its fourth year, this month-long event, much anticipated on the calendar by Waterfordians every year, continues to grow, attract more visitors (locally and nationally), and spread magic through the streets of Ireland’s oldest city.

The five best, not-to-be-missed Winterval attractions are:

** The Magical Light Show. Winterval’s most popular event, the audiovisual light show is projected onto the façade of The Deanery (one of the city’s finest Georgian buildings) in Cathedral Square. This year’s offering includes a mix of traditional Christmas songs, the inevitable Disney slot of “Let It Go,” and Santa’s dance to “Uptown Funk.” You can catch this free show every half-hour from 5 to 8 p.m. Be warned, it’s infectious. For one hour after the show, my 4-year-old daughter, Grace, twirled and danced through the crowds.

** The Singing Christmas Tree in Palace Square. This stage laid out in the shape of a Christmas tree has a daily schedule of choirs—from school children to gospel choirs and choral societies—who fill out its branches to entertain shoppers and passers-by with Christmas carols. All are welcome to join in.

** Santa’s Giant Post Box. At the beginning of Winterval, an imposing 20-foot-high post box is installed in John Robert’s Square where children can drop their letters to Santa. At 3 p.m. every Saturday during the festival, Santa’s elves (from the Waterford Academy of Music and Arts) come to entertain the crowds before taking the letters away to the North Pole.

** Christmas Movie at The Reg. When you need to rest your feet or come in out of the cold, The Reg bar, beside Reginald’s Tower, is the place to go. Every day at 1 p.m., 3 p.m., and 5 p.m., there’s a free showing of a family Christmas movie (this year it’s Elf)… and you can buy a hot chocolate or mulled wine to warm yourself up.

** Panto at Theatre Royal. Though now wrapped up in the catalog of Winterval events, the Waterford Panto Society was entertaining panto-lovers for decades before Winterval was born. Pantomime is a big Irish Christmas tradition, and the Waterford panto—Jack And The Beanstalk this year—is always top class and hilarious and sells out fast.

Other attractions of Winterval include a horse-drawn sleigh, the Winterval Express train through the city, the elves’ workshop, a Viking settlement, an indoor ice rink, a Christmas market of wooden cabins (where you’ll find Neal’s favorite hot chocolate, among other treats and crafts), vintage carousel and Ferris wheel, Santa’s Grotto, and—new this year—the home of Bad Santa, occupied by the Grinch.

Best way to enjoy the festival? Catch the panto in Theatre Royal at 3 p.m., then stroll out into the magic that happens when darkness falls over Waterford and Winterval lights the city back up. Though the festival kicked off on Nov. 20, it’s just now, in the heart of December, that the streets are truly filled with the spirit of Christmas.

Lynn Mulvihill

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