We love the holiday season, when bright lights, Christmas decorations, menorahs, colorfully wrapped gifts and imaginative retail displays illuminate cities and towns around the world, regardless of whether there is sun or snow outside. For many, ’tis the season to spend time with family, bake and decorate (see our directory of U-Pick Christmas tree farms for ideas), then head out on holiday adventures rejuvenated. Many of you will stay close to home; others will take their big family vacation of the year and reunite with loved ones.
Whether you are planning a staycation or a vacation, travel prepared. Even travel close to home can be hampered by weather delays or a family illness that forces you to postpone your trip and incur change fees. And holiday travel also coincides with flu and cold season. You might be planning a trip abroad, to the Caribbean or to see the German Christmas Markets. Despite the uncertain weather, Americans continue to view Europe as a preferred holiday travel destination, according to travel destination data collected and analyzed by Allianz Travel Insurance, the world leader in travel insurance. Check out their variety of family vacation policicies to ensure your holiday trip will be as stress-free as possible.
TOP HOLIDAY LIGHTS, DECORATIONS AND FESTIVALS FOR 2019
This roundup of the top holiday displays across America was compiled with The Family travel Forum and is your guide to the best and brightest public events. We hope you will share your finds and photos by using the tag #starrylights.
ALBUQUERQUE, NEW MEXICO
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 and more than 500 dazzling displays. See it from November 30-December 30, 2019.
ANAHEIM, CALIFORNIA SPONSOR
Anaheim becomes the merriest place on earth when The Disneyland Resort puts on its holiday finery. In addition to clever holiday-themed food, shows and merchandise, for 2019, guests can join Mickey and pals for the festive “Mickey’s Happy Holidays” character celebration at Disney California Adventure Park as well as the rocking Disney Holiday Dance Party at Disneyland Park. Kids who’ve seen “Frozen 2” will want to score a fresh autograph from Anna and Elsa. The multicultural Disney Festival of Holidays honors Christmas, Navidad, Hanukkah, Diwali, Kwanzaa and Three Kings Day. Look skyward for snow falling on Main Street, U.S.A. and the nightly “Believe … in Holiday Magic” fireworks spectacular. Magic has already begun and runs through January 6, 2020.
Lights on the Bay is celebrating its 25th anniversary in 2019. This drive-through holiday light show at Sandy Point State Park is comprised of more than 60 stationary and animated displays including a glowing lighthouse and blue crabs on Chesapeake Bay. Don’t forget to buy the 3D glasses so the displays really pop! Dates are November 24, 2019-January 1, 2020.
The annual Trail of Lights at Zilker Park, voted a USA Today “Top 10 Holiday Celebration,” will wind through 1.25 miles of scenes composed of multi-colored twinkling lights; a 155-foot conical tree made entirely of lights is at its center. The casual Fun Run and Finish Line Festival will be December 7. Plenty of delicious dishes will be available in this foodie town, plus kid’s activities, local crafts vendors and photo ops. December 10- 23, 2019.
Experience the German style Christmas Village in Baltimore at Inner Harbor West Shore Park. Season 2019 will start with a preview weekend November 23-24. Vendors at more than 50 booths will sell traditional European food, sweets and drinks and host special wine and beer tastings. In addition, they will offer a great shopping experience with a large variety of international holiday gifts, ornaments, and jewelry and high-quality arts and crafts. November 28-December 24, 2019.
BELLEVUE, WASHINGTON. SPONSOR
The star of the show for the last 15 years is Snowflake Lane: The Most Magical Winter Wonderland in Bellevue (10 miles east of Seattle). Snowflake Lane is a local holiday tradition and a nightly celebration. Great for kids of all ages, Snowflake Lane draws crowds from the Pacific Northwest and beyond! Some of the fun to be seen at this complimentary event includes costumed dancers, parade floats and snowflakes drifting from the sky each night at 7 p.m. November 29-December 24, 2019.
The Holiday Tree Lighting in Boston Common (December 5) will be one of several tree-lighting ceremonies in Bean Town. Others will take place at the Massachusetts State House, Faneuil Marketplace and Copley Square. Go on the Freedom Trail Holiday Stroll and discover how Boston’s holiday traditions evolved. This historic holiday stroll will run from mid-November 2019 to late January 2020, Thursdays-Sundays.
Do not miss an Ozark Mountain Christmas that features over 300 exhibitions including drive-through night light displays such as the 2½-mile long Trail of Lights at The Shepherd of the Hills. More than 6 million lights will help celebrate an Old Time Christmas at the Silver Dollar City amusement park from November 14-December 30, daily except Monday and Tuesday. Branson’s many holiday events will include a parade and five-story special effects Christmas tree.
BROOKLYN, NEW YORK
The Lights of Dyker Heights in Brooklyn attracts 100,000 visitors to view amazing decorations. Expect to see massive, professionally wired light displays from mid-December through New Year’s Eve. We suggest going anytime between dusk and 9pm December 1-31, 2019.
CHARLESTON, SOUTH CAROLINA
The annual Holiday Festival of Lights, considered one of the top 20 holiday lights events in the Southeast, features millions of lights arranged in over 700 displays along a three-mile route at James Island County Park. Other attractions include a Festival Train, an old-fashioned Victorian Carousel, Santa’s Sweet Shoppe and more. Open every from November 15 – December 30, 2019.
Rock City Garden’s Enchanted Garden of Lights returns for its 25th year with more than 30 illuminated holiday scenes. You will also be able to enjoy live entertainment in the North Pole Lounge, cookie decorating, and Sugar Plum Fairy makeovers for the kids. Booking a Dinner with Santa package will get you a meal and a VIP entry pass. Dates are November 22, 2019-January 4, 2020. The Holiday Trail of Lights will feature 12 major city attractions with millions of twinkling lights, some of which stay lit from November to February.
A key Chicago event, the Magnificent Mile Lights Festival celebrates November 22-23, 2019 in Pioneer Court. Festivities will include a visit from Santa, live music, and a parade on North Michigan Avenue. The grand marshals will be Mickey Mouse and Minnie Mouse from Walt Disney World Resorts Florida and a fireworks display will follow. The Museum of Science and Industry will celebrate Christmas Around the World and Holidays of Light will feature more than 50 trees decorated to represent various cultures and holiday traditions. The festivities run November 22-January 5, 2020.
Kringle’s Inventionasium Experience takes over Cleveland’s Tower City Center as families explore Mr. Kringle’s top secret laboratory and use the makerspace to collaborate and invent new toys in a fun STEAM activity. Open November 23-Decembr 24, 2019.
COEUR D’ALENE, IDAHO
Be wowed by holiday music performances and more than one million lights on the largest on-the-water holiday light display in the United States. The lakefront Coeur d’Alene Resort runs “Journey to the North Pole Cruises” three times each evening. This 40-minute cruise offers spectacular views of the holiday light displays. Santa awaits your child’s arrival at the North Pole Toy Workshop. Enjoy a visit or book a resort overnight package between November 16- January 1, 2020.
COLORADO SPRINGS, COLORADO
The Cheyenne Mountain Zoo will illuminate over one 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 during the event. Electric Safari happens 22 nights between December 6-January 1, 2020.
CRUISE VACATIONS FOR THE WINTER HOLIDAYS SPONSOR
Since there is so much competition in the cruise industry, the major cruise companies go all out to entice holiday travelers with special décor, celebratory meals, festive activities and even church services for almost every denomination. Disney Cruise Line adds sparkle to each ship during Very Merrytime Cruises, with traditional “turkey day” fanfare, Christmas feasts, “snow flurries” and more. During these voyages, special stem-to-stern holiday events include “Mickey’s Tree-Lighting Magic” in the atrium lobby on the first night of the cruise; “Santa’s Winter Wonderland Ball” in the atrium lobby, Dickens-inspired carolers throughout the ship, kids’ holiday crafts and much more. During Christmas sailings, guests delight in festive treats and a special musical performance from the children. Our annual family cruise guide has all the information you need to choose the best cruise and itinerary for your family.
GALVESTON ISLAND, TEXAS
The 3-mile-long Festival of Lights at Moody Gardens boasts 100 animated light displays along with an outdoor ice rink, movie, snow tubing down a 100-foot long Arctic ice slide and photos with Santa Claus. Visit from November 16-January 12, 2020.
Enjoy the 44th annual Fantasy of Lights Christmas Parade with lighted floats, equestrian units and Santa Claus on December 6, 2019. The parade lineup includes marching bands from all over the east, large balloons, dancers, musicians, and much more. Look for arts ‘n’ crafts shows, special concerts, dining and other holiday attractions this season.
They call this little Western town near Dallas the Christmas Capital of Texas because it has millions of twinkling lights and more than 1,400 events in 40 days. Tour the town’s Western sights and pick up some history with a “Christmas Passport – Elf Adventure” hunt, then escape to “SNOWLAND” at the Great Wolf Lodge and join “Christmas Carol of Lights” November 19. “Lone Star Christmas” at Gaylord Texan resort features “ICE!,” a magical display of elaborate, life-sized pure ice sculptures, islides and monuments with dramatic lighting effects – all created from nearly 2 million pounds of ice. It runs November 9 – January 1, 2019.
A winter wonderland will beckon you at Hershey Sweet Lights, a holiday drive-through spectacular. Enjoy more than 600 massive illuminated, animated displays glowing along two miles of forested trails from the comfort of your car. Then park and hop aboard the Sweet Lights Trolley where conductors share chocolate and carols as they guide you through the sites.The Hershey Park Christmas Candylane features more than 4 million lights, 50+ theme park rides, a visit with Santa and his reindeer by the Holiday Chocolate House and, maybe, the best hot chocolate ever. The dates for both events are November 15-January 1, 2020.
HONOLULU, O’AHU, ISLANDS OF HAWAII
The aloha holiday spirit will shine throughout the 35th annual Honolulu City Lights festival beginning December 7 with the kick-off Electric Lights Parade. That night you will find food, souvenir booths, Keiki Rides and a Christmas tree lighting ceremony. The amazing lights will stay lit at the Frank F. Fasi Civic Center Grounds through December 29, 2019.
This town goes all out: illuminating the Indiana Soldiers and Sailors Monument with nearly 5,000 lights. Admission to the annual Holidays on the Circle events are free. Travelocity named the Circle of Lights one of the top five “must-see Christmas trees” in the nation. Don’t miss Santa’s Big Arrival at the Children’s Museum of Indianapolis on November 29, 2019. Saturdays between November 30 and December 21, 2019.
IOWA’S MOUNT PLEASANT
Join the locals when they sip gluhwein at Christkindlmarket Des Moines (December 6-9, 2019) and then go see the Mount Pleasant Festival of Lights on select nights from November 21- December 31 at the Midwest Old Threshers campgrounds. They will light up 60 acres of the park in what is described as the largest holiday light display in the Midwest. Davenport hosts the Quad City Arts Festival of Trees. Feast your eyes on the 30,000-square-foot River Center complex that will be transformed into a winter wonderland featuring over 150 designer displays. It runs November 23-December 1, 2019.
KANSAS CITY, MISSOURI
Do not miss Kansas City’s winter holiday family events including the “Country Club Plaza Lights,” a local tradition for nearly a century. This 15-block holiday spectacle on famed Country Club Plaza will feature thousands of glimmering, jewel-colored lights that accentuate every dome, tower and window of the Spanish-inspired shopping district. The “Mayor’s Christmas Tree Lighting” ceremony at Crown Center always takes place the night after Thanksgiving and benefits charity.
LOS ANGELES, CALIFORNIA
You will not find snow, but there is plenty of holiday spirit around town. BOLD Holidays returns this year to Beverly Hills with extended shopping hours, live entertainment, art installations and more. The festivities will begin with the Rodeo Drive Holiday Lighting Celebration on November 14. Activities take place November 14-December 22, 2019. Timeout covers dozens of other holiday events here.
LAS VEGAS, NEVADA
Las Vegas is an unforgettable nighttime wonderland featuring holiday entertainment and attractions. Feast your eyes on glittering lights at Las Vegas Motor Speedway and join carolers at the “Holiday Experience at the Park.” “Magical Forest at Opportunity Village” raises money for good causes and is open throughout the season. Check out the fun and entertainment-packed Vegas.com calendar of holiday events.
The downtown Milwaukee Holiday Lights Festival will return to Pere Marquette Park with a holiday variety show and the city’s largest switch-flipping ceremony. Watch the streetscape transformed by sparkling rooflines, harp lamp lighting and suspended décor above downtown intersections. The festival will run November 21, 2019-January 1, 2020.
MCADENVILLE, NORTH CAROLINA
McAdenville is a small town that really knows how to compete with big cities. The official lighting of Christmas Town USA, in its 64th year, will be December 2, 2019. The ceremony will take place on the Plaza, in front of the Pharr Family YMCA. In addition, you will be able to feast your eyes on more than 160 beautifully decorated homes as well as 250 evergreen trees covered with more than 500,000 lights. The Christmas Festival, a 5K Run and other events occupy the town throughout December.
Take a journey back in time to Christmas Eve 1876 at Mystic Seaport. Their Lantern Light Tours include a play that features winter fantasia inspired by “A Christmas Carol.” Tours are 70 minutes long and include many musical surprises such as the chance to meet Santa. Not recommended for ages 4 and younger. Enjoy this New England holiday tradition from November 23-December 22, 2019.
NEW ORLEANS, LOUISIANA
Celebration in the Oaks is a time-old tradition popular with kids, adults, locals and visitors to New Orleans. More than 25 acres of the park’s famous moss-covered oaks are blanketed in almost a million twinkling lights. Light displays include the Cajun Night Before Christmas and a storybook experience; events like “Yoga Under the Lights” and “Pet Pics with Santa” make it an unforgettable experience. Festivities start on November 22 and end January 1, 2020.
NEWPORT, RHODE ISLAND
Christmas in Newport began as a two-week festival that celebrated the noncommercial traditions of the holiday season. Now in its 49th year, the program features a variety of holiday activities, for example a reindeer party and various walking tours. Note that only clear bulbs illuminate the scenic harbor and wharves, the restored colonials of the Point and Historic Hill sections and the Victorian splendor of Bellevue Avenue to mimic the original candlelight festivals. (This is Newport after all.) It’s on the entire month of December 2019.
NEWPORT BEACH, CALIFORNIA
The 111th annual Newport Beach Christmas Boat Parade has it all. In addition to one of the largest decorated boat parades in the country, there are elaborate Christmas light displays on waterfront estates competing in their “Ring of Lights” contest. Hundreds of decorated ships of all sizes also compete for top awards in over a half dozen categories. The boat parade is nightly December 18- 22, 2019.
NEW YORK, NEW YORK
New York celebrates the winter holidays with enthusiasm. The exciting attractions include the Rockefeller Center Christmas Tree (lighting on December 4), the world’s largest Menorah at Brooklyn’s Grand Army Plaza (December 22-30, 2019), New York Botanical Garden’s Holiday Train Show (miniature NYC landmarks made entirely out of plants) from November 23-January 26, 2020 and the 1½ ton, 300-square-foot village made entirely of edible gingerbread at the New York Hall of Science (November 23-January 12, 2020) in Queens. Of course, it’s free to check out the amazingly animated or sparkling LED-lit store windows. Visit NYC & Company for details on holiday events.
OCEAN CITY, MARYLAND
Northside Park hosts Winterfest of Lights that incorporates scenes from popular fairy tales. To enjoy it, board the Winterfest Express for a 1-mile journey through 58 acres of lights highlighting a 50-foot Christmas tree. Ocean City also offers an array of holiday events, parades and activities for the whole family to enjoy running November 22-December 31, 2019.
Mark your calendar for the annual Oceanside Harbor Parade of Lights on December 14. This entertaining spectacle comprises boats of all shapes and sizes decorated with lights, ornaments and multiple holiday trimmings. In addition, enjoy Tis the Season to Shop Local from November 30-December 11. All shops listed on the Shop Local Holiday Passport are in Downtown, Harbor, Inland or South O and compete in window decorating and special events for shoppers.
ORLANDO, FLORIDA – SPONSOR disney park
Orlando has something for everyone. Walt Disney World will again host “Mickey’s Very Merry Christmas Party” and a new Jingle Bell, Jingle Bam! Holiday Dessert Party at Disney’s Hollywood Studios. Among 18 brand new treats are the holiday decor at Toy Story Land, Disney Junior Dance Party!, a yummy Holiday Cookie Stroll, a Diwali celebration with Friends from “Up” and festive Character Couture items in the shops. The Walt Disney World Holiday Services team provides décor for 780locations within 41different properties, including Disney theme parks, resorts, Disney Springs and recreation and shopping areas. The team also decorates Disney Cruise Line ships and Disney Vacation Club resorts in Florida and South Carolina.
Elsewhere in Orlando – At SeaWorld’s “Christmas Celebration” you will be able to meet Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer and see ice skaters twirl on a frozen lake. Visit the Wizarding World of Harry Potter dressed up for the holidays, and watch Dr. Seuss’ lovable Grinchmas steal the show at Universal Studios (November 17-January 6, 2020). Also, be sure to catch a “Christmas Bricktacular” at Legoland Florida featuring a huge Lego Christmas tree (second the third weekend in December).
PALM DESERT, CALIFORNIA
The 450-acre Living Desert will be bright for the 27th annual Wild Lights Festival when they blanket the botanical gardens with thousands of lights. This year, guests will encounter a herd of life-size, luminescent animal lanterns; ride the carousel; learn from animal keepers; and be able to stroll through the popular tunnel of lights flashing to holiday music. This festive event will kick off November 26 and continues select nights through December 28, 2019.
PAWLEYS ISLAND, SOUTH CAROLINA
Nights of a Thousand Candles, named “Best Christmas Lights in South Carolina” by Travel + Leisure Magazine, will come alive amid the soft glow of more than 2,700 hand-lit candles and countless sparkling lights. Walk the paths of Brookgreen Garden from 3pm–10pm with a warm cup of cider, listen to holiday music, and celebrate the season with family and friends. Select nights between December 5-21, 2019.
Experience the magic of the holidays and celebrate traditions new and old in Philadelphia at the delightful Macy’s Christmas Light Show, the ice rink at Dilworth Park, the Germany style Christmas Market at JFK Plaza, and Franklin Square’s “Electrical Spectacle: A Holiday Light Show,” among many other events. Don’t miss the SugarHouse New Year’s Eve Fireworks on the Waterfront and the Mummers’ Parade on New Year’s Day. The Philadelphia PHLASH runs a free, festive shuttle that stops at 11 Philly Holidays Festival attractions every 20 to 30 minutes Friday through Sunday evenings. General dates are November 22-December 29, 2019.
PIGEON FORGE, TENNESSEE
Pigeon Forge creates a winter wonderland for locals and guests alike to enjoy during the city’s 30th annual Smoky Mountain Winterfest celebration. Dollywood is a must-see with more than 4 million lights on exhibit during “Dollywood’s Smoky Mountain Christmas.” The park will have holiday music, rides, a nightly Parade of Lights and much more to celebrate the season. It runs November 15–February 17, 2020.
PINE MOUNTAIN, GEORGIA
The Callaway Gardens Resort’s playful Jolly Trolley runs through a Fantasy of Lights featuring 15 displays and eight million lights. It will include giant toy soldiers, an enchanted rainbow forest, and Firefly Cove. The display was voted one of National Geographic’s “Top 10 Light Displays” in the world. Visit through January 4, 2020.
PORTSMOUTH, NEW HAMPSHIRE
Celebrate the Season with shows, leisurely walks, and shopping. The attractions at the Vintage Christmas in Portsmouth festival include a production of “Elf the Musical,” a candlelight stroll, a Vintage Christmas Kickoff Party, and a Gingerbread House Contest. Events are scheduled throughout the holiday season.
The Mission Inn Hotel & Spa, a historic AAA-Four Diamond hotel, will kick off the holiday season on November 29 with the 26th Annual Festival of Lights celebration. It is a free, six-week-long holiday extravaganza featuring one of the nation’s largest holiday light collections. USA Today named this festival the “Best Public Lights Display in the Nation.” It creates a magical, Disneyland-like experience in the heart of Riverside that attracts more than 500,000 visitors annually from all over the world.
SAN ANTONIO, TEXAS
San Antonio’s River Walk is the place to be on November 29 for the Ford Holiday River Parade. Ring in the holidays with this fantastic night parade filled with lights, costumed float riders and music. The theme this year is “Christmas in San Antonio.” Each float will depict a traditional way San Antonians celebrate the holiday. Information about the more than 2,000 lights at Fiesta de las Luminarias is online.
SAN DIEGO, CALIFORNIA
This family-friendly city will present the Botanic Garden’s 125,000-light Garden of Lights on many days during December. Festive holiday activities will include sledding, holiday crafts, marshmallow roasting, dining, and visits with Santa. Seaworld’s Christmas Celebration is a holiday celebration waiting to happen, with seasonal shopping, festive food and drinks, and incredible live shows. Holidays at Legoland will take place from November 23 through January 5, 2020.
SAN FRANCISCO, CALIFORNIA
The City by the Bay will have holiday lights, public art, special events, and more holiday cheer beginning November 29 at the annual Pier 39 Macy’s Tree Lighting Ceremony at the waterfront marketplace. Synchronized to holiday music, the tree will become a kaleidoscope of swirling color, adorned with thousands of specialty lights and ornaments. Later in December, join in for the fun at the Bill Graham Menorah Lighting, December 22-29, 2019.
Combine a temperate climate, golfing and beautiful resorts with cacti decked out in twinkling lights and you have the allure of Phoenix-Scottsdale during the holidays. “Christmas at the Princess” transforms the classic, AAA-Five Diamond Fairmont Scottsdale Princess Resort into a holiday wonderland featuring a four-story musical tree with 70,000 synchronized LED lights. Note that “Las Noches de Las Luminarias” at the nearby Desert Botanical Garden — a traditional show of 8,000 glowing, hand-lit paper lanterns — runs select nights.
From classic, heart-warming traditions to fantastic updates and brand-new additions to the holiday scene, Seattle offers dazzling experiences that will light up the holidays for locals and visitors alike. Seattle’s annual Holiday Tree Lighting Celebration (including a fantastic fireworks display) occurs at Westlake Park on November 29, 2019. Magic in the Market, Pike Place Market’s longest-running holiday tradition, returns November 30 with free activities for all. Enchant Christmas is back, with an all-new adventure, Mischievous, a giant light maze and a Christmas market featuring 70-plus artisans at T-Mobile Park. Even better, the sponsoring hotel, Hyatt Regency Seattle, is offering a package with an upgraded view guest room, complimentary daily valet parking, two tickets to “Enchant Christmas” and more. Others offer discounted admission in holiday stayover packages including Moxy Seattle, Crowne Plaza Hotel Seattle, Silver Cloud Hotel Broadway, while the Sheraton Grand Seattle once again hosts the beloved Gingerbread Village. Many events begin November 22, 2019 and run through the holidays.
The three-mile Bright Nights festival at Forest Park event is listed on People.com as “One of the Top Ten Holiday Happenings in America.” Expansions since the first season have included the Winter Garden, Jurassic World, Kwanzaa, Everett Barney Mansion, Happy Holidays, Springfield as well as the additions to Toy Land featuring Milton Bradley Company and Hasbro iconic toys and games.
SYRACUSE, NEW YORK
Lights on the Lake is celebrating 30 years. It is a two-mile long, drive-through show featuring spectacular holiday displays, larger-than-life Land of Oz, twinkling Fantasy Forest, colorful section arches, and a fairytale magic grand finale. Stay tuned November 14-January 5, 2020.
VIRGINIA BEACH, VIRGINIA
On December 5, Virginia Beach will host Holiday Parade at the Beach. The event will feature giant balloons, marching bands, lighted floats, equestrian units, fire trucks, dance groups and more. Local decorations and the strolling along the oceanfront boardwalk are a delightful way to get into the spirit of the holidays.
The nation’s capital will play host to an array of winter celebrations including the lighting of the National Christmas Tree on December 9 and the National Menorah on The Ellipse on December 22. You and your kids can enjoy snow tubing, Panda photo ops and outdoor ZooLights at the National Zoo. The lighting will consist of more than 500,000 eco-friendly LED lights on exhibition from November 22-January 1, 2020. In addition, you will have an opportunity to experience the traditional decorations that grace Christmas at Mount Vernon November 29-December 31, 2020.
Learn how they celebrated the holidays a couple of centuries ago at the Grand Illumination in Colonial Williamsburg on December 8. Take a stroll through the Historic District and view all the unique decorations. Enjoy musical performances on multiple stages throughout the area and fireworks from the Capitol. While you are in the area, visit Busch Gardens’ Christmas Town.
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