Holiday lights shows have emerged to make this season sparkle especially brightly. Here are some curated suggestions of shows to seek out on the East Coast to stir up feelings of pure holiday joy. Be sure to wear comfortable shoes and dress for potentially frigid weather to reap the utmost pleasure in these predominantly outdoor experiences.
Dyker Heights Christmas Lights
About 100 homeowners take holiday decorating to the limits with over-the-top bright lights, nativity displays, nutcrackers and inflatables for the annual Dyker Heights Christmas Lights in Brooklyn.
According to legend, Lucy Spata, also known as the Queen of Christmas, started the phenomenon in the 1980s. Each year, the decorations have become bigger and brighter. Some residents decorate their own homes, while others hire specialty companies. Everyone tries to outdo last year’s decorations.
The lights go on after sunset, typically about 4:30 p.m., and dim around 9 p.m.
Residents of Dyker Heights created DHCL, a company that offers guided bus and walking tours of their neighborhood’s iconic annual winter holiday display. The tour includes pick up and drop off in Midtown Manhattan. Tourists also may get to Dyker Heights by Uber or public transport.
For more information: dykerheightschristmaslights.com
Bronx Zoo Holiday Lights
Every evening through Jan. 8, the annual Bronx Zoo Holiday Lights celebration brings the zoo to life with holiday cheer that celebrates wildlife in the form of an animal lantern trail, immersive light displays, custom-designed animal lanterns and animated light shows.
More than 360 lanterns representing nearly 90 animal and plant species connect visitors to the real wildlife and wild places that zoo staff work to protect through field programs around the world and in New York zoos and aquariums. This year, 70 new lanterns representing 30 new animal species make their debut.
A new holiday tree show, located at the zoo’s Astor Court, features synchronized musical light performances with more trees than ever before. In addition, there’s a walk-through light tunnel with animal-themed light show, ice carving demonstrations, costumed stilt walkers and a holiday train. Seasonal treats including hot cocoa, s’mores, churros, pretzels and popcorn are available for purchase.
Advance purchase of timed tickets is required.
For more information: bronxzoo.com/holiday-lights
Thousands of shimmering, artfully designed holiday lights provide a magical outdoor experience at three Massachusetts garden properties: the 90-acre Eleanor Cabot Bradley Estate in Canton; the 48-acre Naumkeag in Stockbridge; and the 91-acre Stevens-Coolidge House & Gardens in North Andover. Visitors are welcome Wednesday through Sunday evenings through Jan. 7 (except Dec. 24 and 25).
A note about Naumkeag: due to the site’s age and its steep and uneven terrain, Naumkeag is not ADA-compliant or wheelchair- or stroller-accessible and may be difficult to navigate for guests with limited mobility. Advance purchase of timed tickets is required.
For more information: thetrustees.org/program/winterlights-massachusetts/
ZooLights at the Smithsonian’s National Zoo
ZooLights, the annual holiday tradition at the Smithsonian’s National Zoo, has returned for the 2022 holiday season. Open daily, 5-9 p.m., through Dec. 30, the zoo becomes a winter wonderland with environmentally friendly LED lights and glowing animal lanterns.
The free, ticketed event features live music performances, winter treats and opportunities for holiday shopping. All proceeds from ZooLights concessions and parking sales benefit animal care and conservation science at the Smithsonian’s National Zoo and Conservation Biology Institute.
For more information: nationalzoo.si.edu/events/zoolights
Garden of Lights
Garden of Lights, Montgomery Parks’ annual outdoor, walk-through winter lights display, features glimmering one-of-a-kind displays adorning the flowerbeds and pathways on a half-mile paved trail in the 50-acre Brookside Gardens in Wheaton, Maryland. The exhibit is open nightly through Jan. 1 (except Dec. 24 and 25), 5:30-9:30 p.m.
Pedestrians and cyclists can enter at the pedestrian gate, 1800 Glenallan Ave., or via a half-mile path beginning at 2000 Shorefield Road near Wheaton Regional Park’s Adventure Playground.
New additions to the secular displays of animals, flowers, and other natural elements, all handcrafted by Montgomery Parks staff, include a winter wonderland scene with tall ice-like formations and falling snow in the Rose Garden, and oversized colorful flower forms throughout the formal gardens.
Timed-entry tickets must be purchased in advance online. Hot chocolate and light snacks are available for purchase.
For more information: montgomeryparks.org/parks-and-trails/brookside-gardens/garden-of-lights
Winter City Lights
There’s a 100% chance of snow every night at Winter City Lights’ magical holiday experience at 4501 Olney-Laytonsville Road in Olney, Maryland. One million twinkling lights are spread across an 18-acre outdoor winter wonderland that features 14 bonfires, a 1.5-mile trail of lights and displays through the woods, a 52-foot high programmable “dancing” Christmas tree and light show coordinated with holiday music, a 200-foot canopy of lights, and a winter city snowstorm every half hour. But wait, there’s more: an eight-lane snow tubing ride, s’mores and funnel cakes.
Timed-entry tickets must be purchased in advance online. For more information: wintercitylights.com
by Ellyn Wexler