One of the first sights you behold when entering Winter Wonderland—which boasts “over 250 colorful light set-pieces” and claims to be “the most spectacular drive-through light show in the region”—is a crude approximation of a grinning racecar. Made from Christmas lights, this jaunty fellow zips along, his holiday cheer matched only by his need for speed.
Like Christmas, this car is a lie. Despite the fact Winter Wonderland is held at the
Portland International Raceway—a racetrack that only exists to drive fast on—you will never go faster than 3 miles per hour. Welcome to Winter Wonderland, which promises euphoric thrills (“the largest holiday light show west of the Mississippi”), and then delivers some flickering light displays that you slowly drive past very slowly.
Those displays include: a drummer with demonic red eyes; everyone’s favorite holiday icon, the Christmas Turtle; a semi-abstract representation of “The 12 Days of Christmas,” featuring eight maids who are not a-milking but rather pouring endless torrents of milk into a giant, nauseating milk vat; scientific inaccuracies (numerous dinosaurs are positioned next to the Loch Ness Monster and a juggling dragon—as if they lived at the same time, as if dragons can juggle); and, crammed to the side of a manger, some begrudging acknowledgements of Hanukkah (two menorahs, one Star of David) and Kwanzaa (a cornucopia that looks like a cobra, helpfully labeled “KWANZAA”).
Interspersed throughout Winter Wonderland’s static displays are “animated” displays, and these, even I must admit, are something else: In one, an otherwise cheerful Santa repeatedly raises his arm in what certainly looks a whole lot like the Nazi salute; in another, and I know you think I am lying but I am not, a baby climbs a giant candy cane, jumps off while connected to a rope, swings down... and then hangs there, limp and dead.
As you remain trapped in a slow line of slow cars that slowly putter along a goddamn racetrack—creeping past a display of a snowman tossing a snowball, and wondering if that’s fucked up, because snowmen are made of snow—you’ll also drive beneath a giant wreath and through a tunnel of lights! The light tunnel will make you feel like your 2004 Subaru Legacy is the Millennium Falcon and you’re blasting into hyperspace! Punch it, Chewie! This lasts four seconds. I guess they ran out of lights.
My 2004 Subaru Legacy, as usual, was full of friends who were stoned, drunk, and making fun of my car’s CD player; according to these objective observers, anyone sitting on the left-hand side of the vehicle is “totally screwed” since “everything’s on the other side,” and the entrance fee, despite benefitting the Portland Police Bureau’s Sunshine Division, may be slightly high: “Wait, it was 20 bucks to go there?”