Story by Kelundra Smith
Holiday lights have been around almost as long as electricity. Once the Christmas tree made its way to the United States, and candles were recognized as fire hazards, the search was on for an alternative way to illuminate those green pines. According to the Smithsonian, in 1882 a New York businessman and patron of Thomas Edison strung red, white and blue light bulbs together to form the first Christmas tree lights. Today, holiday light displays have become such a phenomenon that they warrant a reality television show, ABC’s “The Great Christmas Light Fight.”
The Atlanta area provides plenty of chances to see white lights hanging from porches, the glimmer of Christmas trees in our neighbors’ windows and even animatronic reindeer on front lawns, but light displays are taking it up a notch. Whether inside or out, area parks, gardens and museums are making sure that the fireside won’t be the only thing blazing bright this season.
Every year, Atlanta Botanical Garden turns into a winter wonderland with its Garden Lights, Holiday Nights, and this year is no exception. The “Earth Goddess” will again become the “Ice Goddess” and the “Nature’s Wonders” display promises to have a new soundtrack and new choreography for the lights.
For exhibitions manager Emily Saccenti, getting ready for the holidays is a yearlong project, and her team starts putting the LED lights up at the beginning of August. “We like to hold on to our traditions, but we’ll have a few of our Imaginary Worlds pieces on display — the dragon, the phoenix and Pegasus,” Saccenti says. “We’re also opening up the Skyline Garden, and we’re calling it the Skylights Lounge with a DJ, seating and a bar. … You’ll get the same feeling, but it’s a totally different experience.”
In addition to the seasonal lights, Atlanta Botanical Garden partnered with the High Museum on a special installation of mirrored spheres called “Narcissus Garden” to go along with the highly anticipated “Yayoi Kusama: Infinity Mirrors” exhibition, opening at the museum on Nov. 18. Kusama creates a one-of-a-kind experience with light, shape, repetition and scale. The black and gold polka dotted pumpkins are right on time for Thanksgiving, and despite its name, “The Obliteration Room” transports viewers back to FAO Schwarz at Christmas.
“Everyone loves the pumpkin room [‘All the Eternal Love I Have for the Pumpkins’],” said Michael Rooks, the High’s contemporary and modern art curator. “I love ‘The Souls of Millions of Light Years Away.’ It’s like being in a galaxy of light or outer space. The lights slowly flicker on and off. You lose all sense of the limits of your body and your skin, and you become the universe.”
Though tickets to “Infinity Mirrors” will likely sell out, the High Museum will offer 100 walk-up tickets every day on a first come, first serve basis.
The Chattahoochee Nature Center is creating a different type of universe along the Woodland Trail with “Fairy Houses and Gnome Homes.” Starting Dec. 1, this elaborate tiny house scavenger hunt along the Woodland Trail will be like seeing “The Borrowers” in real life. At the new Enchanted Woodland Wonders event on Dec. 9 from 2-6 p.m., the trail will be draped in twinkling lights, cocoa will be served by the campfire, and a few special reindeer will make an appearance.
For those willing to make the drive OTP, the ruins and garden of Barnsley Resort in Adairsville receive the star treatment with approximately 1 million lights for the holidays. Built by Godfrey Barnsley for his wife, Julia, in the 1840s, the resort hosts a lighting of the ruins for guests the night before Thanksgiving, and then the space is open to the public until New Year’s Day.
“It’s such an intriguing story, filled with a tragic love story and multiple generations from the mid-1800s to early 1900s,” says Jody Jones, experience director at Barnsley Resort. “The determination of Godfrey’s daughter, also named Julia, helped salvage the manor after the Civil War, though it lost its roof from a tornado in 1906. In 1988, Prince Hubertus Fugger of Bavaria purchased the estate, and revived and expanded the gardens and ruins. The result is what we proudly see today, enchanting guests with its romance and natural beauty.”
Throughout the season, the resort will have several holiday-themed events, including gingerbread house crafting, wreath making class, harvest hay ride and campfire stories, and cookie decorating. Jones recommends checking their website for additional activities.
Just north of Atlanta, Lake Lanier celebrates 25 years of its “Magical Nights of Lights” with the return of the “12 Days of Christmas” display for families to sing-along as they drive through, as well as beloved “Wizard of Oz,” “Jack and the Beanstalk” and “Carousel” displays. A “5 o’clock somewhere” clock makes its debut at the clock tower roundabout.
With more than eight million lights, Callaway Gardens’ “Fantasy in Lights” promises to ring in the spirit of the holidays with a drive through the forest and a Christmas Village. It started in 1992 with five scenes made up of Christmas lights, and has grown to feature 13 scenes and two shows, including the “Enchanted Rainbow Forest” and “Snowflake Valley.” To enhance the experience, reserve a behind-the-scenes trolley tour or participate in bike night on Nov. 11.
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