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Taking the kids: Lighting up your holidays, safely, 12 new drive-thru displays around the country and more!

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Eileen Ogintz

Tribune Content Agency

Let’s light up the holidays!

This year, of course, that will be a different experience with Christmas tree lightings, even the National Christmas Tree lighting will go virtual this year in Washington, D.C., as holiday parades, festivals and visits to Santa are reimagined as the pandemic continues to rage.

Macy’s iconic Santaland in New York City has been transformed into an interactive virtual experience. Wander through Santa’s village and workshop right from home. (You can access it on the Macy’s website.) Annual holiday markets also are offering the opportunity for shopping virtually, including ones that give back to the community like the popular High Hopes Holiday Market in Connecticut, which raises awareness for those with special challenges and the famous Christkindlmarket in Chicago, which showcases artisans from around the Midwest.

Most of us are heeding advice from public health officials and staying home this holiday season. According to a new national survey from the American Hotel & Lodging Association, 69 percent of us are unlikely to travel for Christmas and even more of us stayed home for Thanksgiving, typically the busiest travel weekend of the year.

Hershey Sweet Lights presented by T-Mobile.
Hershey Sweet Lights presented by T-Mobile.

If you are glum about your canceled Thanksgiving plans (I sure was), you are ready to get out of the house and celebrate the holiday season — safely and with masks, of course. We’ve posted many suggestions in our Taking the Kids Guide to Lighting up Your Holidays, which we produce each year with Family Travel Forum. Most are going strong by Thanksgiving weekend.

There are plenty of socially distanced options at zoos, botanic gardens and museums across the country, though you need to make reservations and purchase tickets in advance this year in order to prevent crowds and follow protocols, including wearing masks. (How about a new holiday mask for everyone?)

In Chicago, for example, The Museum of Science and Industry will celebrate Christmas Around the World and Holidays of Light with more than 40 trees decorated by volunteers to represent various cultures and holiday traditions.

Denver Botanic Gardens’ Blossoms of Light is a tradition for Coloradans with light displays that are sound reactive while Zoo Lights transforms the Denver Zoo with more than a million lights, plus a host of new measures to keep your family safe. (Nov. 20 through Dec. 31, 2020)

The 450-acre Living Desert will be bright for the 28th annual Wild Lights Festival when they blanket the botanical gardens with thousands of lights, including a herd of life-size, luminescent animal lanterns and the popular model trains, with more than 3,300 feet of track decked out, as well.

Branson, Mo., North Pole Adventure display. Santa and sleigh.
Branson, Mo., North Pole Adventure display. Santa and sleigh.

There are also a growing number of drive-through holiday light displays across the country, so pack the thermos

In Annapolis, Maryland, drive through Lights on the Bay at Sandy Point State Park with more than 60 stationary and animated displays, including a glowing lighthouse and blue crab on Chesapeake Bay. Don’t forget to buy the 3-D glasses so the displays really pop!

In Austin, Texas, the annual Trail of Lights at Zilker Park, voted a USA Today “Top 10 Holiday Celebration,” is now a drive-thru event, featuring more than 2 million lights, 90 lighted trees and more than 70 other holiday displays and lighted tunnels. Tune in your radio for holiday music and history.

In Branson, Missouri, Ozark Mountain Christmas includes a 2½-mile long Trail of Lights at The Shepherd of the Hills and Lights of Joy Christmas Light Drive Thru is a little over a mile long, lined on both sides with hundreds of displays—even a drive-thru tunnel.

In Branson, Missouri, Ozark Mountain Christmas includes a 2½-mile long North Pole Adventure at The Shepherd of the Hills.

In Charleston, S.C., 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. Purchase treats right from your car.

In Cleveland, Ohio, the Cleveland Metroparks Zoo has an all-new drive-through Wild Winter Lights display with more than a million lights and holiday displays, including the Enchanted Forest and Conservation Trail.

Blossoms of Light, Denver Botanic Gardens.
Blossoms of Light, Denver Botanic Gardens.

In Galveston, Texas, the 3-mile-long Festival of Lights at Moody Gardens is the largest holiday destination in the Southwest, boasting dozens of animated light displays.

In Hershey, Pennsylvania, Hershey Sweet Lights, offers a drive-thru experience with more than 600 massive illuminated, animated displays glowing along two miles of forested trails.

In New Orleans, Celebration in the Oaks is an annual tradition with more than 25 acres of the park’s famous moss-covered oaks blanketed in more than a million twinkling lights and light displays over 2.25 miles.

In San Francisco, light art will brighten block after block of the city from Thanksgiving Day to New Year’s Day for the Illuminate SF Festival of Light with more than 40 installations in 17 neighborhoods created by more than 30 artists.

In Syracuse, N.Y., Lights on the Lake is celebrating 31 years with a two-mile-long, drive-through show featuring spectacular holiday displays, a larger-than-life Land of Oz, twinkling Fantasy Forest, colorful section arches, and a fairytale magic grand finale.

In Virginia Beach, Virginia, Lights at the Beach allows you to drive on the boardwalk through nautical, holiday and adventure lands as a soundtrack plays on your car radio. See festive fish, musical crab, and a 40-foot tall Christmas tree on the beach.

Have a candy cane for me!

©2020 Eileen Ogintz. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

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