17th Annual Cactus Lighting at Ethel M Factory: A Choco-Light Wonderland
A November 16th evening spent in most industrial parking lots would be a cold, gray, dismal affair. Here at the Ethel M Candy Factory in Henderson, Nevada, (just 15 minutes from the Las Vegas Strip) it means a balmy evening of Christmas lights, school choirs, visits with Santa Claus and his elves, chocolate samples and holiday fun. And oh yes, cactus plants – hundreds of them.
Ethel M Chocolates offers free tours of both the factory and the maze of paths that comprise the three-acre Botanical Cactus Garden filled with more than 300 different kinds of plants, including Teddy Bear Cholla, Texas Prickly Pear, and Spotted Aloe. There’s more to cactus than just saguaro.
Decked out in no less than a half-million tiny, multi-colored lights just waiting for a jolt of electricity to start them on their twinkling mission, the popular annual event is a clever desert adaptation. Cactus can be festive, and has been for nearly two decades. Chocolate means celebration. Combine them and you have a reliable crowd pleaser.
Festivities got underway with Christmas carols courtesy of the Schofield Middle school choir. As the evening progressed, entertainment was provided by the Coronado High School Choir and youthful members of On With the Show (Las Vegas’ own version of GLEE). Several merry elves were on hand for face painting and creating animal balloons for the many youngsters in attendance.
Santa was also on hand, and will be each Friday, Saturday, and Sunday leading up to Christmas. The Holiday Cactus Garden is open from 5-10 p.m. daily and will remain open through New Year's Day. Local choirs are scheduled to perform every Friday and Saturday night.
An M&M World gift shop on the premises featured the colorful candy characters on merchandise as well as bagged in the familiar packaging. The new offering this year featuring M&M’s with pretzels inside. Green and Red real-life versions of the original candy were available to bravely surround themselves with adoring children.
This year, master of ceremonies Louie Anderson donned a Santa hat and chatted with the crowd, picking out children to interview. The larger-than–life comedian settled on two young brothers named Bjorn and Renwick. I wondered aloud if their parents were Vikings but they were, indeed, locals, and fans.
Anderson performed a few of his signature jokes, such as: “My dad used to say to me, Louie, ya ever been to war?” To which Louie would reply, “Dad, I’m eight.” Anderson can be seen nearly every night at Palace Station, performing in a theater which bears his name.
Along with Chris Phillips, the male half of Zowie Bowie, Anderson led a countdown to the botanical light-up at approximately 6:15 p.m. Special glasses, available for $2.00, allowed visitors to view the lights with a snowflake effect around each tiny bulb. Phillips entertained the crowd with his upbeat versions of “Rudolph” and “Santa Claus is coming to Town.”
To get to these three treats, all you had to do was head down one long hallway for a glimpse of the inner workings of the candy factory. Since 1981 the Ethel M Chocolate Company has manufactured creamy confections by the ton through a series of pipes, conveyer belts and tanks that hold between 20,000 and 35,000 gallons of chocolate. When the tanks need a refill factory workers have to be latched into belts to ensure that they don’t fall into the vats. Safety first, of course, but what a way to go!
At the tour’s end, a colorful lounge beckons where visitors can sample and buy chocolate, creating their own assortments. Some of the fun flavors available in the colorful liqueurs display case include Choco-politan, Lemon Drop, Yum Rum, and Champagne Cocktail.
There’s also an ice cream counter, coffee bar, sugar free candy section and even kosher sweets. Cactus starter kits and plants fill one corner so that you can literally take a mini-version of the botanical garden with you, along with a maxi-portion of candy.
After all, candy and cactus in combination means that you’ve been to Ethel M, a place that’s literally “stuck” on sweet.
For further information:
Ethel M Chocolates Factory & Botanical Cactus Garden
2 Cactus Garden Drive (corner of Sunset and Mountain Vista)
Henderson, NV 89014