The Woman who Saved Christmas

Since 1974, Brenda Johnson has kept the lights shining at Edaville

By David Kindy | Photography by Jack Foley

Known for its twinkling holiday light displays, Edaville Family Theme Park’s annual Festival of Lights celebration went dark in 1999 and the Carver attraction was shuttered for seven years. A holiday destination since the park opened in 1947, Edaville’s lights might never have come back on again if not for the efforts of one tireless staff member: Brenda Johnson.

Hired in 1974 at the age of 14, Johnson has lasted through all of the park’s iterations and owners, witnessing the highs and the lows. She’s held just about every job title over the last 44 years, from popcorn vendor to park owner (from 2005 to 2011). She’s hung Christmas lights, sold tickets, operated rides, picked up trash and even driven the locomotives.

“I love it here,” says Johnson, who is now the park’s general manager. “It still makes me smile to see all of the happy people.”

Despite being open much of the year (April through January 1), Christmas is Johnson’s favorite time of year, and the Festival of Lights, which once featured around 200,000 lights now boasts more than 7 million.

Preparing the park for the holidays is a huge undertaking. Decorations are hung, displays are given a fresh coat of paint and every bulb on the famous bogside “Seasons Greetings from Edaville” sign must be working.

The park almost closed for good on several occasions and each time Johnson was in the background working to resuscitate the business. The park is now owned by developer Jon Delli Priscoli, who contributed the infusion of cash needed to help Edaville survive – and thrive. But it was Johnson’s vision and drive that helped transform the old-style novelty attraction into a thriving regional theme park.

Edaville’s annual visits have increased from 70,000 a few years ago to more than 270,000 last year. Much of the ticket sales increase can be attributed to new amusement park rides and infrastructure improvements. Guests can peruse the Victorian-style shops in Dickens Village (Johnson recently helped design vibrant floor-to-ceiling murals for the inside of a new candy store), venture past life-size animatronic dinosaurs in Dino Land, enjoy a multitude of kid-friendly rides in Thomas Land, inspired by the popular children’s television show Thomas the Tank Engine, and explore Cran Central, which features rides, arcade games and an authentic narrow-gauge railway – one of the last of its kind in the country—that takes passengers on a 2.5-mile trip through cranberry country.

It’s the tail end of the season that Johnson enjoys most. That last day before Christmas is special. The pressure is off. The shopping is done. All the presents are wrapped. Everything is ready for Santa’s arrival. It’s time to relax.

“Christmas Eve is the best,” says Johnson. “It’s a tradition, so you see a lot of the same people year after year. Nobody’s rushing. The kids are happy and parents are laid back. It’s my favorite night of the whole year.”

Johnson is proud that the Festival of Lights continues to twinkle on crisp New England winter nights, bringing joy to families. With her office located above the front gate, she loves nothing more than to slide open her window to hear the comments of happy families headed home.

“I love to listen to the little kids,” she says. “They all say the same thing. ‘I don’t want to go home! This is the best day of my life!’ It makes me feel good.”

Comments are closed.