Wednesday, Nov. 16, 2016 | 2 a.m.
It’s not the holidays in Henderson until the Ethel M lights come on.
On Tuesday, Las Vegas radio personality Mercedes Martinez pulled the handle to illuminate over 1 million holiday lights wrapped around hundreds of cacti covering more than three acres at the chocolatier’s headquarters, 2 Cactus Garden Dr., as about 1,500 onlookers, the majority families with children, watched in awe.
“This is what it’s all about,” said Martinez, who emceed the 23rd annual edition of the event. “This is a very special treat.”
The garden, free and open to the public through Jan. 1, will light up every night until New Year's Day, with the exception of Christmas Day, when the chocolate factory is closed, said Oren Young, Ethel M’s general manager. Over 250,000 visitors passed through the garden last year, up from about 200,000 the year before. Young expects 2016 to be their biggest year to date.
“This is the best time of year for us,” he said on a day that surely didn't feel like the ushering in of the winter holiday season — Las Vegas hit a high of about 75 degrees Tuesday, with temperatures expected to drop the rest of the week.
Young said 80 percent of the lights in the cactus garden are LED. It takes contractors over one month to put all of the lights up and another month after the holiday season ends to take them down.
Tuesday’s event featured renditions of “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas” and “Silent Night” from the 45-member Coronado High School choir and “Carol of the Bells” from Schofield Middle School. Las Vegas performers Terry Fator, Chris Phillips of Zowie Bowie and the cast of "Baz" sang “Christmas in Vegas,” a jazzed-up version of “Jingle Bells” and “Let it Snow,” respectively.
Wearing a red shirt with a white Santa-style mustache and beard, Las Vegan Braden Carrol, 8, wore a yellow glowstick around his neck and carried a caramel-filled milk chocolate in one hand and a Santa-shaped balloon in another. Braden, attending the event with his mother, Anna, and younger sister Rebecca, danced the cupid shuffle before watching the lights turn on for the first time.
“It was really cool,” he said, grinning.