When the sun crests the mountains’ edge Easter morning, it will creep down through the hills and fall on Lake Junaluska, where more than 300 worshippers will sit awaiting it at the foot of the massive wooden cross that graces the lake’s edge.
It’s the culmination of a weekend full of Easter celebrations and the continuation of a tradition that has stood at the Methodist retreat for years.
Though the Easter sunrise service might be the spiritual climax of the holiday at the Lake, it will be the end to a weekend packed full of events that will draw Lake Junaluska Assembly’s second-largest crowd of the whole year.
The services themselves — and there are several, all commemorating a different piece of Christ’s biblical journey to the cross — have been going on for years, but the other festivities just got their start five years ago, says Ken Howle, director of communications for Lake Junaluska Assembly.
“We did this as a mechanism for reaching out to the local community, to build stronger relationships and to make people feel welcome at Lake Junaluska,” says Howle. And if attendance is the measure of success, the effort is working.
The retreat center will host a massive egg hunt in conjunction with Waynesville’s recreation department, one of the area’s most popular, where 10,000 plastic eggs filled with tiny treats will be hidden for children to find. The hunt, says Howle, drew about 300 kids the first year and has been steadily growing since. They expect 1,000 hunters this year.
Staff and volunteers at the Assembly have been readying the eggs, many of which are recycled from years past, for nearly a month now.
The 5k and 10k Bunny Run last year attracted runners from 10 states, and 300 to 400 participants are expected to run this year.
An egg decorating contest will also be on offer, with prizes donated by Mast General Store.
“There is really something for everybody this weekend at Lake Junaluska,” says Howle. “It’s a big process, but for us this is one of the funnest events that we do each year because it’s a way that we can really give back to the local community.”
As for the services themselves, there will be four, each with a different focus and atmosphere to reflect the differences in Jesus’ death and resurrection.
The spiritual aspects of the celebration will start on Friday night, with a somber service, followed by a massive Easter vigil on Saturday evening and culminating in Sunday’s sunrise service.
The Easter vigil is one of the oldest services in the Christian tradition and will include five different churches from four denominations around the region.
A hat parade
Lake Junaluska’s events aren’t the only ones ringing in the budding spring this weekend, though. Just a few miles west in Dillsboro, locals and tourists alike are dusting off their bonnets for another round of the town’s famed Easter Hat Parade.
Now in its 23rd year, the parade invites guests of all ages — and species — to don their best Easter headwear and join the march through Dillsboro on the Saturday before Easter.
Vintage cars will join the procession and judges will pick the best hats from 20 different categories, from biggest and smallest to ‘poofiest’ and most spring-like.
Here, too, kids can spend the afternoon searching out Easter eggs before taking in and English tea at the Jarrett House Inn.
And for those who are, as yet, hatless, never fear; the Dillsboro Crafters will be on hand for a hat-making workshop ahead of the parade.
So whether it’s taking in the sunrise at the water’s edge or donning a festive chapeau for an afternoon stroll with a few hundred friends, there’s something for everyone this Easter weekend as we celebrate the fading of winter and the budding green of welcome spring.
April 16 — A visit from the Easter Bunny, arts and crafts, egg hunts, Easter bonnet contest, duck races and other activities at Stecoah. Activities start at 11 a.m. 828.479.3364 • stecoahvalleycenter.com
April 23 — Run the 5k or 10k Bunny Race, followed by egg hunts and decorating contests at Lake Junaluska. Run begins at 8:30 with Easter services throughout the weekend. 828.452.2881 • lakejunaluska.com
April 22 - 23 — Ride the Great Smoky Mountains Railroad from Bryson City for an egg hunt, bunnies and photos with Snoopy. 800.872.4681 • gsmr.com
April 23 — Don your best bonnet for the Dillsboro Easter Hat Parade. Judging in 20 different categories as well as a hat-making workshop, egg hunt and English tea. Festivities start at 10:30 a.m. with parade at 2 p.m. 800.962.1911 • visitdillsboro.org
April 23 — See the Easter bunny and join in two separate egg hunts: one for infants through age four, and one for ages five to 10 at Bryson City Horse Arena Grounds. Egg drop contest and other events will be available. Activities begin at 1 p.m. 800.867.9246.
April 23 — Community pancake breakfast and egg hunt at Tom Sawyer’s Christmas Tree Farm and Elf Village. Breakfast begins at 8 a.m. with egg hunt to follow at 10 a.m. 828.743.5456
April 23 — Easter egg coloring party for children ages four to 16 at The Waynesville Inn, plus a story reading, pizza dinner and ice cream. Activities begin at 6:30 p.m.
April 24 — Egg hunt led by the Easter bunny outside the Cork and Cleaver restaurant at The Waynesville Inn. Hunt starts at 1:30 p.m. following a brunch. 828.456.5988