It’s beginning to look a lot like the holidays

November 9, 2016 - Atlanta, Ga: Garden Lights event at the Atlanta Botanical Garden Wednesday November 9, 2016, in Atlanta, Ga. Opening night is Saturday November 12, 2016. PHOTO / JASON GETZ
Caption
Visitors take a leisurely stroll and enjoy the holiday spirit at the Atlanta Botanical Garden. Courtesy of the Atlanta Botanical Garden.

Credit: Jason Getz

Credit: Jason Getz

Dazzling displays electrify the metro area with lights, camaraderie and good will.

About 12 years ago when the real estate market wasn’t very merry, David Cochran, president and CEO of Paces Properties, reviewed the budget for the annual Christmas tree lighting at Vinings Jubilee. “I sat there and tried to swallow. It just cost too much. I thought hard about cancelling it but I couldn’t do it. It almost felt like the community expects it — and more important — the community deserves it.”

About a decade earlier in 2002, Mary Pat Matheson and her family moved to Atlanta from Park City, Utah, and celebrated the holidays in her new city. “It was a dumb mistake,” she says frankly. “We had no friends nor family. There wasn’t a lot to do. There was the Pink Pig in a parking lot or you could drive to Callaway Gardens, but it was a long drive. I needed beauty and a sense of community.” From that coal-in-your-stocking moment, the idea for the Atlanta Botanical Garden’s annual “Garden Lights, Holiday Lights” was born.

Caption
A prancing horse is just one of the many glorious exhibits at the Atlanta Botanical Garden. Courtesy of the Atlanta Botanical Garden.

Credit: Jason Getz

November 19, 2018 - Atlanta, Ga: Atlanta Botanical Garden Garden Lights event at the Atlanta Botanical Garden Monday, November 19, 2018, in Atlanta.  (JASON GETZ/Getz Images)
Caption
A prancing horse is just one of the many glorious exhibits at the Atlanta Botanical Garden. Courtesy of the Atlanta Botanical Garden.

Credit: Jason Getz

Credit: Jason Getz

Holiday lights and displays are setting up all around metro Atlanta. For most, it’s a few lights and maybe a waving Santa in the front yard. (Hopefully, Frosty won’t deflate before the holidays are over!). However, commercial and municipal entities, such as Vinings Jubilee and the Atlanta Botanical Garden, put up a true extravaganza with thousands of lights, music and moving figures all helping to usher in the holiday season. Whether they are on a small scale or worthy of a holiday movie set, holiday lights, music and a sense of community really are what make the holidays special.

“You don’t even have to celebrate the holidays, but a light show is for everyone. It’s the joy of walking and, when you’re in the Garden, you see people who look like you and those who don’t. That’s what’s wonderful about Atlanta. Atlanta is an international, innovative, chic, forward-thinking city, and our show reflects that,” says Matheson, president and CEO of the Atlanta Botanical Garden.

The Garden’s show, which starts Nov. 13 and runs through Jan. 15, will certainly light up Midtown. The exhibit features about one million light bulbs (about 265,980 in “Nature’s Wonders” alone) and the total length of all the light strings is more than 50 miles — the distance from Atlanta to Gainesville.

Explore'Holiday Road' light show makes Atlanta debut

“We have some areas where it’s quiet and sweet children watch the lady bugs and dragon flies all lit up; it’s beautiful and quiet,” Matheson says. “Then we have places with 1,600 lights programmed to a computer and we play classical music. It’s very stimulating but it doesn’t blow your brains out; it’s walking through a piece of art.”

Vinings Jubilee started its tree lighting ceremony 36 years. “It’s very Rockwellian and the tree lighting is a great experience for the families to come out, see Santa and the tree and start the season,” Cochran says.

Cochran, who has four children under 14, admits the tree lighting isn’t his kids’ favorite moment. “The fire department drives Santa with all the sirens blaring and lights flashing and Santa hanging off the truck rig. The kids just explode! It’s phenomenal, even if a couple of times the fire department had a call and Santa had to walk back.”

Over the years, Vinings Jubilee has spiffed up the ceremony, adding falling fake snow and group singers. “We stay in the Christmas lane and that works for everyone. It just fills your heart every year.”

Matheson agrees that the Garden’s show, as well as others, serve an important purpose. “Most parents who come once keep coming back with their children,” she says. “We want to make memories and so when you’re an adult you’ll close your eyes and think back to the lights you saw when you were a child. You really won’t remember the teddy bear someone gave you. It’s all about bringing people together, making joy and creating memories.”

Among the sites to create holiday light memories are:

The Atlanta Botanical Garden’s “Garden Lights, Holiday Nights” runs from Nov. 13 through Jan. 15 and features annual favorites such as the Cascade Garden’s Ice Goddess and the Great Lawn’s Orchestral Orbs. There are new twists such as the Glowing Grove along the Flower Walk and an invasion of Brilliant Bugs. In addition there will be s’mores, model trains and live music.

5 p.m.-10 p.m. Prices vary. 1345 Piedmont Ave. NE, Atlanta. 404-876-5859, atlantabg.org.

Caption
Santa arriving at the Vinings Jubilee tree lighting ceremony is always a hit with youngsters. Courtesy of CatMax Photography.

Credit: Chris Roughgarden

Santa arriving at the Vinings Jubilee tree lighting ceremony is always a hit with youngsters. 
Courtesy of CatMax Photography.
Caption
Santa arriving at the Vinings Jubilee tree lighting ceremony is always a hit with youngsters. Courtesy of CatMax Photography.

Credit: Chris Roughgarden

Credit: Chris Roughgarden

Vinings Jubilee’s annual Christmas Tree Lighting takes place 6-8 p.m. Dec. 2 with 1940′s-style carolers, train rides, ornament decorating, a jazz band performance, face painting and a visit with Santa. The historic village will showcase its festival best throughout the season.

6-8 p.m. Dec. 2. Free. 4300 Paces Ferry Road, Atlanta. 770-434-2400, viningsjubilee.com.

World of Illumination, the producer of the world’s largest drive-through animated light show, has two holiday theme parks in metro Atlanta this year. Atlanta Motor Speedway in Hampton will be home to “Arctic Adventure,” and Six Flags White Water in Marietta will host “Rockin’ Christmas.” Both shows feature millions of colorful lights and hundreds of animated displays synchronized to holiday music. A portion of the proceeds benefits Make-A-Wish-Georgia.

Caption
The World of Illumination, with two locations in metro Atlanta, is the producer of the world’s largest drive-through animated light show. Courtesy of World of Illumination.

Credit: Handout

The World of Illumination, with two locations in metro Atlanta, is the producer of the world’s largest drive-through animated light show. 
Courtesy of World of Illumination.
Caption
The World of Illumination, with two locations in metro Atlanta, is the producer of the world’s largest drive-through animated light show. Courtesy of World of Illumination.

Credit: Handout

Credit: Handout

“Arctic Adventure’s” includes a 32-foot-tall snowman named Sunny and all his tundra friends. “Rockin’ Christmas” is a bit more hip with gigantic boomboxes, iPods and jukeboxes along with DJ Santa and the Little Drummer Boy spinning tunes.

Nov. 12-Jan. 2 (Marietta); Nov. 17-Jan. 2 (Hampton). 6 p.m.-10 p.m. $45 per car Monday-Thursday; $55 per car Friday-Sunday and holidays. Six Flags White Water, 250 Cobb Parkway N., Marietta. 770-590-4067; Atlanta Motor Speedway. 1500 Tara Place, Hampton. 877-926-7849, worldofillumination.com.

Life University’s “Lights of Life” is a 1.5-mile drive around the Life University campus and features more than one million lights. Other festivities include pony rides, train rides, a petting zoo and stationary and animated displays.

Nov. 25- Dec. 31. Dark-9 p.m. Sunday-Thursday; dark-10 p.m. Friday-Saturday. Cars: $10; Buses: $20. 1269 Barclay Circle, Marietta. 678-331-4334, life.edu/lights-of-life.com.

Six Flags Over Georgia goes all out with more than one million LED lights and dozens of Christmas trees with “Holiday in the Park.” In addition to popular rides and lots of sparkling lights, there will be festive shows and Santa.

Nov. 20-Jan. 2. Hours and prices vary. 275 Riverside Parkway, Austell. 770-739-3400, sixflags.com/overgeorgia.

Stone Mountain Christmas features a specular light show as well as other shows and Santa flying overhead in a sleigh.

Nov. 13-Jan.2. Park closes at 9 p.m. Select days. $34.95 for a one-day pass, ages 12 and up; $44.95 for VIP ticket. 1000 Robert E. Lee Blvd. Stone Mountain. 800-385-9807, stonemountainpark.com.

Lanier Islands has partnered with Margaritaville to offer Lakeside Lights Spectacular, which kicks off the holiday season with a magical walk though a lighting extravaganza with festive seasonal music playing. One-of-a-kind light shows range from traditional holiday displays to hi-tech images and Margaritaville-themed scenes.

Nov. 12- Feb. 27. Hours vary. $19.99-$24. Margaritaville at Lanier Islands, 7650 Lanier Islands Parkway, Buford. 470-323-3440, margaritavilleresorts.com/margaritaville-at-lanier-islands.

There’s a lot of holiday cheer — and a lot of lights — over at Atlantic Station. For those who want to walk around and soak up the holiday atmosphere, there will be more than 250,000 lights within the 8-block radius. From Nov. 20 through Jan. 2, the Celebration at the Station will take place every hour from 5-9 p.m. Set to a soundtrack provided by Atlanta Symphony Orchestra, the holiday tree lights, cafe lights surrounding Atlantic Green, all-new custom Jumbotron animated video and snow shows are integrated into one free spectacular celebration.

Then there’s ATL Holiday Lights Show, a drive-thru show that is bigger and better than ever with hand-crafted light displays from everyone’s favorite movies and even a mini neighborhood with local establishments.

Nov. 11-Jan. 2. 5:30-10 p.m. value nights and Sundays; 5:30 p.m.-11 p.m. peak nights. $25-$35 per car in advance, $30-$40 at the gate. Thursday walking nights are $15 in advance, $20 at gate. Atlantic Station, 1380 Atlantic Drive NW, Atlanta. 404-410-4010, atlholidaylights.com.

Caption
Even lizard lanterns want to celebrate the holidays at IllumiNights at the Zoo: A Chinese Lantern Festival. Courtesy of Hanart Culture.

Credit: Handout

Even lizard lanterns want to celebrate the holidays at IllumiNights at the Zoo: A Chinese Lantern Festival. 
Courtesy of Hanart Culture.
Caption
Even lizard lanterns want to celebrate the holidays at IllumiNights at the Zoo: A Chinese Lantern Festival. Courtesy of Hanart Culture.

Credit: Handout

Credit: Handout

Want your holiday light show to be located somewhere other than the North Pole? Looking for a bit of international flair? Head over to IllumiNights at the Zoo: A Chinese Lantern Festival, which features more than 80 larger-than-life lanterns (some up to 20 feet tall) representing the natural world in all its glory. There will be scenes and animals from the seas to the Arctic Circle, rainforest and savannas. Each lantern is made and hand-painted by Chinese artisans and features environmentally-friendly LED Lights. The path to view all the lanterns takes about an hour to walk through and the route is wheelchair friendly.

Nov. 22-Jan. 16. 5:30-9:30 p.m. $20.99-$24.99, adults; $17.99-$21.99 senior citizens; $17.99-$19.99 ages 3-11. Zoo Atlanta, 800 Cherokee Ave. SE, Atlanta. 404-624-5600, zooatlanta.org.