Atlanta’s sparkling light shows bring creativity, wonder and lots of watts

The holidays are glowing all over metro Atlanta, from Woodstock to Lawrenceville and more.
Dunwoody, GA - Dec 1: Scenes from the lighting of the Christmas tree at Brooks Run Park on Dec 1st. (Adam Hagy)

Credit: Adam Hagy

Credit: Adam Hagy

Children — and one adult — marvel at the lights at the Holiday Lights at Dunwoody’s Brook Run Park. (Courtesy of Dunwoody Parks and Recreation)

It’s a sure bet that Santa and his reindeer will be able to find Atlanta on their trek from the North Pole, no GPS system required. Ol’ Saint Nick should simply be able to head straight for the illuminated sky over the city’s twinkling holiday light installations and animated characters intended to delight holiday revelers of all ages.

Atlanta’s presenters have been counting their lights and measuring their displays, staking a claim to being the biggest, largest, greatest and the family-friendliest.

Of course Barbie will show up for a holiday party at Magic Lights at Dixie Speedway. 
(Courtesy of Magic Lights at Dixie Speedway)

Credit: Ana Robles

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Credit: Ana Robles

“We have 2 million sparkling lights, a 32-foot sparkling Barbie, dinosaurs, a monster truck,” said Mia Green, owner of Dixie Speedway in Woodstock. “We’re hosting one of the largest light displays in the nation.”

Magic Lights at Dixie Speedway is “great for the community and north Georgia,” Green added. “You load up the family in the PJs — even the family dog — and you drive through. It’s joyous. It’s Christmas and it’s a time when people come together and the good will comes out.”

The metro area has come a long way since the lighting of the Christmas tree at Rich’s, and later, Macy’s, dominated the holiday landscape. Now, many shopping malls, town greens, gardens and entertainment venues present holiday experiences full of lights, animated figures, music and wonderment.

Garden Lights, Holiday Nights, returns to the Atlanta Botanical Garden through Jan. 14. Courtesy of Atlanta Botanical Garden

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The Atlanta Botanical Garden’s Garden Lights, Holiday Nights opens with perennial favorites such as the world’s largest curtain of light and the light-blanketed White Rabbit, as well as new features including a 144-foot-long wintery white sky net, illuminated metal sculptures of deer and birds, 11-foot-wide lighted butterflies suspended from the treetops and a new Kiss Me Arch, perfect for Instagram photos or maybe even a proposal.

Dunwoody hosts its fourth annual Holiday Nights at Brook Run Park, with Après Ski Party serving as this year’s theme. The walk-through display features 85,000 lights as well as a life-size snow globe and ski-lift background suitable for pictures. The Mega Tree will have animated lights synched to holiday music.

“We’ll be creating a snow mountain and kids can climb on it,” said Rachel Waldron, recreation manager for Dunwoody Parks and Recreation. “Lights will be cascading down from the trees. We’ll have a glow-in-the-dark seesaw. It’s lots of fun. Kids can go play in the park and it’s a way for parents to get the wiggles out of them, tire them a bit and have a fun and free night.”

With more than 1 million colorful lights, 600-plus animated displays and six immersive tunnels, the Enchanted Safari at Six Flags White Water in Marietta is promoted as the world’s largest drive-through holiday light experience. Guests soar among the clouds, outrun a T-Rex and reach Santa’s Bazaar, where exotic animals will greet visitors.

The Enchanted Safari at Six Flags White Water features more than one million lights and is the largest drive through light experience in the world. 
(Courtesy of the World of Illumination)

Credit: Handout

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Credit: Handout

Produced by World of Illumination, the show “has you trekking over land, sea and air to hear the jingle of the jungle,” said Sean Kameoka, director of marketing. “There are peacocks and piranhas, and everything is rocking out to holiday music.

“It’s great family entertainment and a time for people to get together,” he continued. “Usually, people are going off in all directions but [here], you’re in a car dancing and singing along to the music.”

Atlantic Station tree lighting.

Credit: Raftermen

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Credit: Raftermen

Atlantic Station gets into the holiday spirit, as well, with an outdoor skating rink with theme evenings (Superhero Night, Ugly Sweater Night, First Responder Night), a Holiday Photos Dropbox, 50-foot tree and light show. The light show features an eight-minute video of a little mouse helping to decorate, followed by a nine-minute light show with synchronized music, then concluding with a two-minute snow shower.

“It’s like ‘wow’,” said Starr Cumming, retail director for Hines, the Midtown development’s owner. “The videos, lights, snow, the ice skating — everything comes alive. … We want to heighten all their senses.”

At least two metro Atlanta sites are hosting Chinese lantern festivals: IllumiNights at Zoo Atlanta and Winter Lantern Festival at the Gwinnett County Fairgrounds.

IllumniNights explores nature’s beauty in lights, from fierce luminous leopards to a soaring Pegasus. The mile-long Zoo stroll features more than 200 hand-crafted and hand-painted lanterns. In addition, there are warm beverages, marshmallow toasting and rides on the Endangered Species Carousel. A virtual reality experience allows guests to “soar” over snow-capped mountains.

IllumniNights at the Zoo features more than 200 hand-crafted lanterns. 
(Courtesy of Zoo Atlanta)

Credit: Handout

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Credit: Handout

The Gwinnett festival features more than 1,000 handmade Chinese lanterns inspired by Chinese myths, legends and the zodiac. “It’s just all kinds of beautiful things,” Winter Lantern Festival Fair Manager Todd Teasley said, “really spectacular.” More than 10,000 tickets have already sold for the run of the walk-through event.

No matter where you go, it’s all about creating special moments with loved ones amid the light glow.

“It simply is a great way to have unforgettable memories,” said Kameoka from Six Flags. “Parents love looking at their kids’ faces, and grandparents have something to do with kids. It brightens up the holiday season.”

IF YOU GO

Magic of Lights at Dixie Speedway. 6-9 p.m. Monday-Thursday, 6-10 p.m. Friday-Sunday (6-10 p.m. nightly starting Dec. 8), through Dec. 31. Advance purchase for standard vehicles: $22 per car through Dec. 7; $27 Dec. 8-31. At the gate for standard vehicles: $30-$35 through Dec. 7; $35-$40 Dec. 8-31. 150 Dixie Drive, Woodstock. 770-926-5315, dixiespeedway.com.

Garden Lights, Holiday Nights. 5-9:30 p.m. through Jan. 14. $27.95.-$62.95 non-member adult; $24.95-$59.95 non-member children. Atlanta Botanical Garden, 1345 Piedmont Ave. 404-876-5859, atlantabg.org.

Holiday Lights. 4-8 p.m. through Dec. 1-31. Free. Brook Run Park, 4770 N. Peachtree Road, Dunwoody. 678-382-6850, discoverdunwoody.com.

World of Illumination’s Enchanted Safari. 6-10 p.m. Tuesday-Sunday, through Dec. 31. $39.99-$49.99. Six Flags White Water, 250 Cobb Parkway, Marietta. 770-590-4067, worldofillumination.com.

Celebration at the Station. 5-9 p.m. (at the top of the hour) until Dec. 25. Free. Atlantic Station, 1380 Atlantic Drive, 404-410-4010, atlanticstation.com.

IllumiNights at the Zoo. 5:30-9:30 p.m. (last entry at 8 p.m.) daily through Jan. 14. $20.99-$24.99, general admission, adult; $17.99-$19.99, general admission, children 3-11; $17.99-$21.99, general admission, seniors 65 and up. Zoo Atlanta, 800 Cherokee Ave. 404-624-5600, zooatlanta.org.

Winter Lantern Festival. 5-9 p.m. daily through Jan. 2. $17.99, children; $21.99-$25.99, adults. Gwinnett County Fairgrounds, 2405 Sugarloaf Parkway, Lawrenceville. 770-963-6522, winterlanternfestival.com/atlanta/.

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