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Holiday Lights

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Holiday Lights - Austin Trail of Lights - photo © J. Bear.

Austin Trail of Lights, photo © J. Bear.

Families love to see the sparkle of holiday lights in the dark: even the local neighborhood can become magical. And then there are those places where the sparkles multiply into millions...

Below are some top spots to see holiday lights. (Order moves roughly clockwise around the U.S.) Typically, holiday lights displays start mid-November and last until early January.

PA: Hershey's Sweet Lights
Hershey PA is "Chocolatetown USA", home of the Hershey chocolate empire, and a popular place for families thanks to Hersheypark theme park (open during December as "Christmas Candylane") and family-friendly Hershey hotel and lodge. Take a two-mile drive through the woods past dozens of sparkling displays; set your car radio to the right frequency, and hear carols as you cruise by.

PA: Oglebay Winter Festival of Lights
60 miles from Pittsburgh, this Festival attracts more than 1M visitors to the largest holiday light show in the US. A 6-mile drive passes by 1M lights and 60 displays, including perennial favorites such as a massive Polyhedron Star. Expect lots of tour buses! From early Nov. to early Jan.

DC: Holiday Lights
Read about displays at several venues, including the Winter Festival of Lights at Watkins Park in Maryland, a drive-through with more than a million holiday lights; from late November through January 1.

Orlando, FL: Osborne Family Spectacle of Dancing Lights
Of course we expect the big theme parks to be ablaze with holiday lights; but the history of this extravaganza at Disney World is unique, and starts in Little Rock Arkansas in 1986, when businessman Jennings Osborne strung up 1000 lights for his 6-year-old. The display grew yearly, until-- at 3M lights -- the neighbors took legal action to pull the plug! Luckily Disney World stepped in, and guests there now enjoy an amazing display, plus "Florida snow". See photos and details.. 90% of the figures come from the original display in Little Rock, including a giant Mickey Mouse.

Florida Holiday Lights
About's Guide for Florida for Visitors has a round-up of other great places to see Holiday Lights. Orlando, of course, has millions of twinkles, but other places too are dazzling: such as St. Augustine, the oldest city in the US, where Nights of Lights last all through January.*

Lousiana: Festival of Lights, Natchitoches
Held in the original French colony in Louisiana (which dates to 1714); and one of the oldest holiday celebrations, held since 1927. Christmas Festival, too, with parade, food fair, life entertainment, fireworks. Natchitoches is a small town near Shreveport, in northwest Louisiana.

Chicago, IL: Magnificent Mile Lights Festival
These holiday lights get started the Saturday before Thanksgiving with a Festival and Mickey Mouse Parade, that illuminates over one million lights. Music, ice-sculpting, fireworks show.

Austin, TX: Trail of Lights
A Grand Opening and Parade start up this annual tradition in December, which has dozens of displays and 300,000 twinkling holiday lights.

Texas Holiday Light Trails
About.com's Guide for Texas Travel has tounds up some great spots for Holiday Lights.

Branson, MO: Festival of Lights
Branson is a show-time town, so it's no surprise that holiday lights are a big show too: an area-wide Festival of Lights Driving Tour passes over 200 displays.

New Mexico: Albuquerque River of Lights, and More
A lovely aspect of Christmas in New Mexico are the "luminarias", Spanish for "little lanterns": each little paper bag contains a small candle that sits in sand (for stability). These small flames line streets, staircases, doorways, in hundreds of thousands... You can enjoy luminaria displays in Albuquerque's Old Town or at the "River of Lights"; or in hyper-photogenic Santa Fe.

Sedona AZ: Red Rock Fantasy
Sedona is famed for its surrounding Red Rock landscapes. This festival of more than a million holiday lights has displays created by families in competition: you might find cartoon favorites, or whatever the imagination dreams up; and visitors can cast a vote for the "People's Choice" award. The event benefits local charities.

California
About's Guide for California for Visitors tells you where to see holiday lights -- on boats. Read about California's Harbor Christmas Parades.

Milwaukee, WI: Holiday Lights Festival
Kick-Off Extravaganza has tree-lighting and fireworks. The Festival has animated displays and elaborate storefronts, plus performing arts, sports events, family attractions. Board the Jingle Bus to see the sights.

Niagara Falls Winter Festival of Lights - Ontario, Canada
Drive through Niagara Parks Winter Wonderland on a 5 kilometer route with nearly 2M holiday lights and 100 displays including "Enchantment of Disney®" animated displays. Various parts of the City of Niagara Falls get lit up too; there's fireworks over the Falls; and the stupendous Falls themselves are illuminated.

*Always check web sites for updates!

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