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Taking the Kids: Seeing the best and brightest holiday lights

Eileen Ogintz, Tribune Content Agency on

Maybe it’s your family tradition to return to the same holiday lights display every year — often the weekend after Thanksgiving when everyone is desperate to get out of the house and whining about eating more leftovers. Maybe you seek out a new one where you are visiting friends and relatives.

One thing is certain: Post-pandemic, these displays, whether in big cities, smaller towns, resorts, at theme parks, zoos, botanical gardens or museums are bigger and better than ever. (If you can, book tickets in advance so you won’t be disappointed.)

If you are in Brooklyn, The Lights of Dyker Heights attracts 100,000 visitors to stroll past amazing private house decorations. Bring a few dollars to donate to a local charity.

McAdenville may be a small town in North Carolina but its free Christmas Town USA, in its 67th year, boasts hundreds of holiday trees lit with 1.5 million red, white and green lights. (Dec. 1 through Dec. 26)

When I was a kid, we always made a trek from the suburbs to see the lights along New York’s Fifth Avenue and the Rockefeller Center Christmas Tree (the tree will be lit with more than 50,000 LED lights on Nov. 30) and see the world’s largest Menorah at Brooklyn’s Grand Army Plaza. The New York Botanical Garden’s adorable Holiday Train Show (miniature NYC landmarks made entirely out of plants) is back this year from Nov. 18, 2022 through Jan. 14, 2023. (Visit NYC & Company for current details.)

When we lived in Chicago, we made it a tradition to visit the Museum of Science and Industry to see the Christmas Around the World and Holidays of Light display, featuring more than 50 trees decorated by volunteers highlighting different countries and cultures. (Nov. 19 through Jan. 3)


And in Denver, we’ve enjoyed Zoo Lights at the Denver Zoo — over 1 million lights, this year including the Aurora Borealis. (Dec. 3 through Jan. 15) and Blossoms of Light at the Denver Botanic Gardens (Nov. 18 through Jan. 7).

This holiday season, families are returning to gathering together enjoying parties, local festivals and holiday lights displays, despite higher costs. In fact, AAA said some 54.6 million Americans will travel 50 miles or more from home — the third busiest Thanksgiving travel season since AAA started tracking in 2000. While some may forsake pricey winter holiday vacations, Americans are still determined to celebrate the season with those they love most. (We hope you share your finds and photos with us with hashtag #starrylights!)

We’ve compiled our annual list of top holiday displays with our colleagues at Family Travel Forum, many incorporating regional traditions. Some you drive through, others have returned to walk-through displays. Here are some of our favorites:

The ABQ Biopark Botanic Garden in Albuquerque, New Mexico, hosts the River of Lights, New Mexico’s largest walk-through holiday production (Nov. 20 through Jan. 1.)


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