Igniting Holiday Vacations: Winter Fests Light Up the Season

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By Susan McKee

With the clocks “turning back” an hour this month and winter on the way, evenings are dark. It must be time for gardens and parks across the Northern Hemisphere to fire up their light shows.

Here are some not to miss:

In Washington, D.C., check out ZooLights at the Smithsonian National Zoo. More than 500,000 LED lights set to music are ready to dazzle visitors from 5 to 9 p.m. November 23, 2018, through January 1, 2019.  A free event, ZooLights includes live music performances, tasty winter treats, and plenty of opportunities for holiday shopping.

Fifth Avenue in the Gallery District of Scottsdale, Arizona, started its first Local Light exhibit last month, but it continues through December 31, 2018. Light-based sculptures commissioned from local artists are on display in eight different sites in downtown, creating a path of art and light between businesses and the canal. It’s staged by Scottsdale Public Art, which is also responsible for Canal Convergence (water+art+light) along Scottsdale’s waterfront November 9 through 18, 2018.

Holiday light festivals

Winterlights opens November 18, 2018, at Newfields: A Place for Nature and the Arts in Indianapolis, Indiana, and runs through January 6, 2019. Hours are 5 to 9 p.m. Special glasses – which you have to get online ahead of time (do it when you buy a timed ticket) will transform each of the “million and a half” lights into shimmering snowflakes. Other inducements: warm drinks and s’mores. 

Not to be outdone, St. Augustine, Florida, promises the city’s historic district will be lit by more than three million white lights. Tracing its origins to the Spanish tradition of displaying a white candle in the window during the Christmas holidays, the display reflects the city’s 450-year history (and Spanish origins). The lights are switched on November 18, 2018, and will glow evenings through February 3, 2018.

The Festival of Light in Longleat, Warminster, Wiltshire, United Kingdom, takes place November 9, 2018, through January 6, 2019. More than 1,000 different lanterns will illuminate scenes from around the world.  The Lanterns are switched on at 4:30 p.m. in November, and 4 p.m. in December, depending on daylight hours.

The North Carolina Arboretum in Asheville plans light displays throughout the garden from 6 to 10 p.m.  from November 16 through December 31, 2018.  (You need to buy a timed ticket in advance for Winter Lights.) “Holiday-inspired” cocoa, cider or beer will be on offer, and seasonal music will be everywhere.

Main Street in Forest City, North Carolina, will be decked out with a million lights wrapped around the live oak trees, hanging overhead and displayed around the town fountain from November 22, 2018, to January 1, 2019. It’s a tradition that dates back to 1930, when the town hung its first lights in the trees. On the weekends, there’ll also be carriage and hay wagon rides.

A Winter Festival of Lights takes place in Queen Victoria Park and throughout Niagara Parks in Niagara Falls, Ontario, Canada, from November 3, 2018, through January 31, 2019. Adding a spectacular dose of dazzle this year between November 9 and 18, the Cascades of Fire: International Fireworks Competition presents 18-minute fireworks displays starting at 9 p.m., and (of course) timed to music on a local radio station.

Further west in Canada, a Winter Lights Festival takes place from 6 to 9 p.m. weekends (Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays) from December 1 through 27, 2018, in Nikka Yuko Japanese Garden, Lethbridge, Alberta. This being the Canadian Rockies, sometimes individual nights of the festival may be canceled due to severe cold, snow or wind. A special night to be there is Emperor Akihito’s Birthday, December 23, 2018. 

A Holiday Light Show in the Rotary Botanical Gardens in Janesville, Wisconsin, features 500,000 twinkling lights and family-friendly fun, such as (“on select nights”) visits with Santa Claus and life entertainment. Free shuttle service is available nightly from Dawson Field.  It’s open from 4:30 to 8:30 p.m.  November 23, 24, 25, 30 and December 6, 7, 8- 9, 13, 14, 15,- 16, 20, 21, 22, 23 and 27, 28, 29, 30., 2018. 

The Dallas (Texas) Arboretum plans a show around the theme of “12 Days of Christmas at Night” that’s open from 6 to 9 p.m. Wednesdays through Sundays from November 14 to December 30, 2018.  Featured are a collection of 25-foot Victorian-style gazebos filled with costumed characters, whimsical animals and music made famous by the beloved Christmas carol. Each gazebo is enclosed in glass and decorated on all sides – look for the mechanical parts and listen for the festive music that will assist in bringing the characters to an even more life-like state.

The Fairchild Tropical Botanical Garden in Coral Gables, Florida, transforms into The Night Garden November 23, 2018, through January 6, 2019. This illuminated fantasy experience features a Wise Talking tree, Flying Fairies, and a Sunflower Maze plus holographic butterflies and floating orchids. 

Happy holiday travels!




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