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Winter Magic Festival 2012

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by Linda Moon (subscribe)
... a dreamer, freelance writer, naturopath, mother & former social work student based in the Blue Mountains. Continue the journey with me- Soul Home:
Winter Magic Festival parade
Photo courtesy of Photographer Cameron Lees

When: 23rd June 2012

Want some family friendly winter revelry embedded with artistic culture?

This energetic annual community festival in the Blue Mountains should deliver - or I'll eat my thermals. You will find it in the main street of Katoomba (coincidently called Katoomba street). On the day, stalls, artists, musicians, dancers, drummers, clowns, and the colourful local artistic community take over Katoomba street. A host of entertaining performances scheduled in advance, can be partaken.

What makes this festival interesting is the pagan atmosphere generated on the day by the colourful local community. This isn't a festival based on commerce (though there are the usual stalls), but artistic and community spirit, of which the Blue Mountains has aplenty. In fact, at times it's hard to know who is actually in costume or playing themselves.

As one weaves (or bashes) their way through the crowds of brightly costumed locals, amidst the sounds of drummers and buskers, it's possible to imagine what winter solstice celebrations might have been like for the ancient pagans.

Winter Magic Festival parade
Photo courtesy of the Winter Magic Festival website

The festival is timed to coincide closely with Winter Solstice, the shortest day of the year and the beginning of shortening nights and lengthening days. Winter Solstice, with its symbolism of re-birth, was celebrated by most ancient cultures, which is why some Christians hate this festival.

The festival has had its share of past controversies and dramas ranging from the quoting of Aleister Crowley (legendary Satanic author) by an organiser to a heavy snowfall on the day of the event. These days it's become a family friendly event that showcases the local arts community and often enjoys a bout of sunshine.

While it might be a long way to come from Sydney, it is worth it just to see the people in costumes ranging from witches to trees. Or dress up yourself. For this is a costume event, which means you have the opportunity to participate. However, choose your outfit wisely. June is a cold month in the mountains. Don't make the mistake I did once and come dressed in a skimpy fairy tutu.

Photo courtesy of local Photographer Cameron Lees


The local paper (the Blue Mountains Gazette) dedicates pages to covering all the events scheduled for the day, which range from belly dancing dance troupes to puppet shows. Be aware, most of these events occur in small halls and can be hard to see behind the crowds that squeeze into them.

The Street Parade is one of the key events scheduled on the day. As it occurs only once over the course of the day – usually before lunch, it is all too easy to miss. Try not to miss it. The street parade consists of drummers, dancers, banner bearing community groups and loads of people in costume.

Winter Magic Festival parade
Photo courtesy of the Winter Magic Festival website

This year, there will be a Poets Breakfast at 11am at the Harp and Fiddle – opposite the Taxi Rank at Katoomba Station and musical and dance performances. These will include such quality acts as Ghawazi Caravan, the Spooky Men's Chorale and much more. A full list of performers can be viewed on the official Winter Magic website. Please note, while some of these performances are free, many are not.

There are also activities on offer for the kids including face painting and children's theatre. However, once again, you need to consult the timetable for when and where or you will miss out.

In past years the festival has closed with a free fireworks display at the Carrington Hotel (the art deco hotel at the top end of Katoomba Street) and one can assume more of the same. The well-placed, top end of town, Carrington has got in on the act (with it's usual good form for what is happening in the community and tourism sector) and offers itself as a venue for entertainment on the day. After dark activities, such as the Peasants Ball ($20 for entry to bands and a drink) and the Red Lantern Ball ($135 for cocktail on arrival, live music, 3 course dinner and 3 hour beverage package) are scheduled. See the Carrington Hotel website for info on these.

Promo for the Red Lantern Ball
Promo for the Red Lantern Ball, but hey if you can't afford that, there's the Peasants Ball at $20 a pop. The Carrington has got it all covered.

Local art is also displayed in shop windows on the days leading up to and after the festival.

The Heritage Express offers a return steam train ride up to Katoomba on the day of the Festival. There are a range of departure stations - Liverpool, Westmead, Blacktown and Penrith. This might seem limited, but this is not CityRail after all. The price is on the steep side, but does include entertainment and some extras, depending on the class of ride you select. There are discounted fares for seniors and children and infants are free. Discounts can also be gained by NRMA members. The fare from Penrith is also substantially less than from the stations closer to Sydney. Considering the expense of keeping these trains on the tracks, it's a quality deal. See the Heritage Express website for details and prices on the Winter Magic Steam train ride.

The Heritage Express
The Heritage Express steam train offers a different and rather magical way to arrive at the Winter Magic Festival.

Once the festival is over many people (chilled to the bone by now) hit the cafes and restaurants very hard. Don't bother bringing a picnic. This is the time to get warm somewhere. Although, be warned, cafes and restaurants in the immediate vicinity of the festival will be jam-packed on the day.

Common Ground Cafe
Common Ground Cafe - one of the most popular cafes in Katoomba can be found at the intersection of Waratah and Katoomba st. Expect cheap prices, home style food, bearded waiters and a stone fireplace. Also expect to wait for a seat.

Do read this section. Otherwise, don't say I didn't warn you.

Make sure you wear decent alpine weather gear (gloves, hat, thermals, scarves, coat). In my experience, this is generally a very cold day. If you do find yourself short of a beanie or two, there are always lots of stalls selling warm winter gear.

If you are planning to stay in the Mountains overnight, book well in advance. Many of the accommodation venues are booked out on this day.

Timetable of events
Don't read this halfway through the day or you will find yourself frustrated. Go to the website closer to the day or get hold of the local paper and work out what events you want to attend. At the time of this article being written the program isn't up on the official Winter Magic website, but keep checking.

Be aware of traffic jams on the way in and out of the Mountains and time your return trip to avoid the rush. Alternatively, be prepared to wait it out or take the train. Apparently more sophisticated traffic management is promised, but that still means waiting around. At least you'll be in the warmth of your car.

Just warning you in advance, everywhere you go from the local café, to the Carrington Hotel – will be packed. There's not much you can do about this. I'm just mentally preparing you.

Winter Magic Festival parade
Photo courtesy of local Photographer Cameron Lees


- You will see lots of fab ideas for winter clothing
- It's free!
- Something you can do with the kids
- People in costume
- Fantastic performers – many of them free
- Your chance to release the inner witch
- The ultimate in community and creative spirit
- Winter atmosphere (also a con)
- It's Katoomba – hey, you know how to get here without the GPS
- That log fire's looking good!
- The Golzeme stall rocks

- Hell couldn't be colder. Where's the log fire?
- How to look good in a balaclava?
- Traffic jams
- Crowds
- If you don't like hippies steer clear

For more info go to the official Winter Magic website or the Winter Magic Facebook page.

The Carrington Hotel Bar
The Carrington Hotel Bar - expect it to be trashed on the day.
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Why? It's free fun and you can take the kids
When: 23rd June 2012
Where: Katoomba Street, Katoomba
Cost: Free community festival. Will need to pay to see some of the scheduled acts.
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