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Taking the Kids: See the best and brightest holiday lights

By Eileen Ogintz, Tribune Content Agency on

Now what?

Thanksgiving is over and you've got nearly a month until Christmas, Hanukah and Kwanza with the kids' anticipation growing daily. When holiday school performances, holiday baking, holiday shopping are added to the daily grind, it's enough to make any parent scream.

The solution: an immediate break that will keep you in a festive mood -- and from turning into a holiday-hating Scrooge. Of course, most of us can't just pick up and go away right before the holidays, much as we might want to go to Orlando for all the special holiday events in the theme park capital of the world, on a cruise where we don't have to cook or pick up anyone's mess or to an exotic beach resort far from holiday hoopla.

But we might be able to manage a weekend or even a night away to explore Holiday Lights a drivable distance from home, as close as your nearest big city. Many are unveiled right after Thanksgiving, in some cases beforehand. With our friends at Family Travel Forum we've compiled a roundup to guide you to the best and brightest holiday displays. (Share where you go with the hashtag #starrylights.)

Make it an affordable weekend away by booking a hotel Cyber Monday deal. In Denver, Mile High Holidays hotel deals start at just $99 and you can see the new 110-foot Mile High Tree -- the highest installation of its kind in North America. Take the train or bus rather than drive and you can congratulate yourselves for having a greener experience!

Make it an early gift for the kids to get away for a pre-holiday weekend, reveling in the holiday lights and festivities. Buy a toy for the less fortunate and drop it in a collection box. Here are 10 places you can find those holiday lights -- and spirit:

 

AT A PARK. The annual Trail of Lights at Zilker Park in Austin, Texas, voted a USA Today "Top 10 Holiday Celebration," will wind through 1.25 miles of scenes composed of multicolored twinkling lights. A 155-foot conical tree made entirely of lights is at its center.

AT A BOTANICAL GARDEN. The ABQ Biopark Botanic Garden will host the “River of Lights,” New Mexico's largest walk-through holiday production, featuring giant sculptures created by millions of twinkling lights.

In Palm Desert, California, the 450-acre Living Desert will be bright for the 27th annual WildLights Festival that blankets the botanical gardens with thousands of lights. This year, guests will encounter a herd of life-size, luminescent animal lanterns and more than 500 dazzling displays.

AT A ZOO. The Cheyenne Mountain Zoo in Colorado Springs, Colorado, will illuminate over 1 million holiday lights, 85 light sculptures, plus crowd-warming firepits to make the annual Electric Safari very festive. A bonus: Select indoor animal exhibits will remain open.

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