Dazzling Light Displays Deliver Holiday Spirit

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There’s nothing like millions of twinkling lights to add sparkle to December, a month known to be cold and dreary in much of the US. Dancing tress, laser light shows, prancing reindeer (mechanical and real), musical performances, plus hot chocolate and hand-crafted trinkets go a long way to engendering a good-will-to-all spirit, even if you don’t celebrate Christmas.

These easy-to-navigate theme parks and zoos provide plenty of holiday dazzle for you and your family.


Hersheypark, Hershey, PA

Four million twinkling lights, and rides on 5 coasters at Hersheypark’s Christmas Candylane make the season merry and bright. Add 9 real reindeer to pet, Santa Claus, and his misses to chat with (at breakfast or lunch), ice skating, a nightly light show plus 2 miles of illuminated animal displays to drive through at nearby Hershey Sweet Lights, and you have a holiday outing as satisfyingly pleasing as a chocolate kiss. Through January 1, 2017.

Tanglewood Festival of Lights, Clemens, NC

Christmas trees decked out with lights that “dance” to original compositions composed by University of North Carolina School of the Arts’ Music Technology students are just one of the highlights of Tanglewood’s million-light program. You can hop aboard a tractor-pulled hayride or sit Cinderella-like in a white carriage drawn by a Percheron horse. To get a fast start to the New Year, run a midnight race through the Festival of Lights on December 31. Tanglewood Park is about 12 miles from Winston-Salem, North Carolina. Through January 1, 2017.

Smithsonian National ZooSmithsonian National Zoo

Smithsonian National Zoological Park, Washington, DC

You never know what animals will “appear” at the National Zoo’s annual holiday party. Bears, anteaters, horses, toucans, elephants, and a wolf howling at the moon took shape in lights at previous festivals. You can also see real apes, reptiles and other critters at the animal houses that remain open during the evening celebrations. Powered by Pepco, ZooLights blazes with 500,000 lights. Families can dance to live music, get photos with Panda Claws and slide down Lion/Tiger Hill on 150-foot long faux snow slide. Free. Through January 1, 2017.

Busch Gardens Williamsburg, Williamsburg, VA

Christmas Town, Busch Gardens Williamsburg, comes alive with 8 million lights, making it one of the largest light displays in North America. Rudolph appears this year for photos and world-champion figure skater Elvis Stojko takes center stage in the ice show. Thrill rides Verbolten, an indoor/outdoor coaster, and Tempesto, which inverts riders 154-feet, elicit happy screams from big kids while Prince Elmo’s Spire, a small drop ride, and Grover’s Alpine Express, a mini-coaster, make little ones yell for joy. Admire the 50-foot Christmas and take time to pet the postcard-pretty Clydesdales. Select days through January 2, 2017.

Cincinnati Zoo & Botanical Garden, Cincinnati, OH

Ride the Toyland Express train, stroll by the gingerbread village, watch a puppet show, eat stickfuls of marshmallows and chocolate at S’Mores-N-More and admire the park’s 2 million synchronized lights reflected in the lakeside light show. On Dec. 31, you can take part in the zoo’s kid-friendly Happy ZOO Year celebration, complete with puppet shows, fireworks and an early 8:55 pm countdown. Through January 1, 2017.