Literally. Lights. In the last month of the calendar year, cities, towns and counties brighten up, giving visitors and residents alike the chance to see their locales like never before.
Throughout the Metro area, places are stringing together awe-inspiring displays of lights, fantastic works of art in their own right. Almost every town has a light tour that’s worth seeing, but some of the most popular in the area are absolutely deserving of a visit.
One of the biggest shows is also the most popular. ZooLights runs from now until January 1st, every day of the week. Hosted by the National Zoo up in Woodley Park, the event starts at 5:00 p.m., when dusk settles in and runs until 9:00 at night. The event is an elaborate showcase for the zoo, with an array of events for everyone. There are the intricate lights, which are shaped into realistic animal figures, but there’s also a synthetic ice rink, where kids can rent ice skates and glide on a surface that, while it feels like ice, is actually a polyurethane mat. Also during ZooLights, several of the animal houses are open, so if you need to warm up, or just want to chat with an orangutan, you can pop in. Admission to Zoolights is $9 for Friends of the National Zoo, and $12 for non-members.
About 30 miles west of the Zoo, in Centreville Virginia, is the Bull Run Festival of Lights, one of the most intense light displays you’ll find around Washington. Running from now until January 8th, the Bull Run Festival of Lights incorporates nearly 40,000 lights into its presentation. Visitors drive a 2.5 mile loop and the cruise is set to music (visitors tune to a station on their way in). While driving through the park, tourists see lit up animated penguins, snowmen, deer and toy soldiers. Admission for the festival is $15 per car on weekdays, with the show running from 5:30- 9:30 p.m. On weekends, the price is upped a bit, costing $20 per car, although the loop stays open a half hour later, until 10 p.m. Also at Bull Run, from the 15th until January 1st, is a carnival featuring rides and games for kids and adults alike.
Across state lines, Maryland features two great festivals this December. First is the Winter Lights’ Festival in Seneca State Park in Gaithersburg, Maryland. The light tour has been open since the beginning of December and runs through the New Year. The ride is a mile longer than the Bull Run and cost less, just $12 on weekdays and $15 on weekends. The hours are a bit shorter, open from 6-9 p.m. on Sunday-Thursday and 6-10 p.m. on Friday and Saturday. On the car trip, riders will see nearly 70 animated displays, with the drive separated into different sections like Teddy Bear Land, Penguin Cove, and the North Pole.
The biggest display of the year goes to the Gaylord National Harbor, and their month long festival, ICE!, which runs until January 8. It’s the most expensive of the bunch, with tickets ranging from $25-35, but it’s without a doubt the most put together. Ticket buyers can experience an entire carved ice village, hosted inside a massive refrigerated tent. The display is so intricate, it takes a month of work in advance, and so immense, it uses nearly two million pounds of ice.
This year’s theme for ICE! is the Dreamworks movie Madagascar, and popular characters from the animated film will be on hand to tell the story of how Santa Claus inadvertently crashed on the island of Madgascar and how the animals of the tropical oasis must figure out a way to save Christmas.
It’s perfect fun for the family, as is every event here, wonderful ways to make December sparkle.
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