For most of us, 2020 has been a tough year. So, even the Scroogiest among us may be ready for holiday merriment – in whatever scaled-back form that takes.
COVID-19 has canceled a lot – sports, arts and culture, our social lives. And it’s interfering with a couple of beloved holiday light shows, too – including the N.C. Chinese Lantern Festival in Cary, N.C.; Zoolumination: Chinese Festival of Lights in Nashville; and Lights at the Brickyard in Indianapolis.
But the (light) show must go on! And most of them will, with commonsense precautions in place.
Christmas Town USA
- Where? McAdenville, about 30 minutes west of Charlotte.
- When? Dec. 2-26. 5:30-10 p.m. Weeknights and weekends.
- Why go? The McAdenville lights attract more than 600,000 visitors each Christmas season.
- Pro tip: Visit on a weeknight, if you can. If you arrive by 8 p.m. those nights, you should be able to see it all by 10 p.m. On Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays, the wait time can be several hours after exiting I-85 or U.S. 29-74. Weekends generally mean bumper-to-bumper traffic.
- COVID-19 precautions: “Due to the virus, the lake will be dark,” said Steve Rankin of the Christmas Town Committee. (Crowds tend to congregate around the lake when it’s lit, so no lights will be strung there this year.)
- Details: Free. Drive or walk through. (Most people drive. There are two streets – Church and Academy – closed to vehicles.) mcadenville-christmastown.com
- Where? Charlotte Motor Speedway, Concord, N.C.
- When? Nov. 21, 2020-Jan. 17, 2021. (Closed Dec. 8 and 9 and Christmas Day.) Gates open from 6-10 p.m.
- Why go? More than 4 million LED lights over a 3.75-mile course. Christmas-themed movie nights are held each Thursday through Sunday on the Speedway’s 16,000-square-foot HDTV screen. And there’s an outdoor ice skating rink.
- Pro tips: The Speedway’s Scott Cooper had several: Arriving a few minutes before the show opens at 6 p.m. helps avoid wait times. Mondays, Tuesdays and Wednesdays are the least crowded, but only the light show and ice rink are open. “While cashless purchase concessions are available at the drive-in movies, bring your own food to keep the kids happy,” he suggested. “Always check the website, as Speedway Christmas may be closed to the public due to a private event or fundraiser.”
- COVID-19 precautions: Cashless concession purchases at drive-in movie parking and ice rink, cashless ice rink/skate rental, rental skates sanitized after each use, hand sanitizer stations.
- Details: Drive through. Tickets available in advance and at the gate. Express passes are available for an additional $20 at the gate. Prices start at $20 per car. Tune into 101.3 FM to enjoy Christmas music as you make your way through the light show, which is open rain or shine. charlottemotorspeedway.com
- Bonus: Watch this behind the scenes video of the experience from 2019.
Lights at the U.S. National Whitewater Center
- Where? U.S. National Whitewater Center, Charlotte, N.C.
- When? Mid-November 2020 through February 2021. Gates open from 6-10 p.m.
- Why go? Lights is an illuminated, half-mile walking trail that leads viewers through a series of immersive light installations featuring webs, vines, crystals and other natural features integrated into the forest. Lights is not a holiday light show. “It is a public art installation of illuminated elements inspired by nature,” said Jesse Hyde, brand director at USNWC.
- Pro tip: Looking for something fun and outdoors to do on Christmas? The Whitewater Center is open Christmas Day, and Lights is open that night. “Grab a hot chocolate or craft beer before entering Lights,” Hyde suggested. “Lights is a dog-friendly experience, and leashed pets are always welcome at the Whitewater Center.”
- COVID-19 precautions: None needed. “COVID has not changed the Lights experience,” Hyde said. “It takes place on a half-mile trail with ample room for social distancing. The Whitewater Center recommends guests wear a face covering and practice social distancing whenever possible.”
- Details: Walk through. usnwc.org
- Bonus: Watch this behind the scenes video of this year's experience.
29th Annual Tanglewood Festival of Lights presented by Lowe’s Foods
- Where? Tanglewood Park is 10 minutes west of Winston-Salem at 4061 Clemmons Rd. in Clemmons, N.C.
- When? Nov. 13, 2020-Jan. 1, 2021 from 6-11 p.m. (On Dec. 31, closing time is 10 p.m.)
- Why go? It’s been a tradition for nearly three decades.
- Pro tip: Monday through Thursday tend to be slower nights. The wait on Fridays and Saturdays could be up to four hours.
- COVID-19 precautions: Due to COVID-19, the Gift Village – including the gift shop, Santa and Lowe's Foods S'moresville, are closed this season.
- Details: Drive through the 5-mile route, which contains more than 100 displays. Expect a wait, especially on weekends. Rates start at $15 per car. forsyth.cc/parks/tanglewood/fol
- Bonus: Watch this behind the scenes video of the experience from 2018.
Winter Lights at the N.C. Arboretum
- Where? 100 Frederick Law Olmsted Way, Asheville
- When? Nov. 20, 2020-Jan. 10, 2021. Nightly from 5:30-10:30 p.m.
- Why go? About 500,000 energy-efficient LED lights twinkle throughout the garden.
- Pro tip: Don’t miss the new-this-year nature-themed displays, including winter wildlife, colorful butterflies, a special insect lantern exhibit and a giant daisy “garden.”
- COVID-19 precaution: The event has been changed from a walk-through to a drive-through experience.
- Details: Drive through. Date-specific tickets are required and must be purchased in advance. $25 per vehicle. ncarboretum.org
Christmas at Biltmore
- Where? Biltmore House, Asheville
- When? Daytime (9 a.m.-4:45 p.m.) through Jan. 10, 2021. Candlelight Christmas Evenings (6-10 p.m.) through Jan. 9, 2021.
- Why go? The 60-foot tall Christmas tree on the front lawn covered in more than 40,000 lights is one among many.
- Pro tip: Advance reservations (biltmore.com) are a must. Crowds tend to be lighter earlier in the week, but this is Biltmore’s most popular season.
- COVID-19 precautions: “We’ve made adjustments to follow public health mandates and CDC guidelines,” said LeeAnn Donnelly, senior PR manager at The Biltmore. “We will have instrumental musical groups and duos instead of large choirs during our Candlelight Christmas Evenings. Decorations close to guest walkways are set farther back to ensure social distancing.”
- Details: Daytime Celebration open through Jan. 10, 2021. Candlelight Christmas Evenings open through Jan. 9, 2021. The experience includes admission to the 8,000-acre estate, including the Antler Hill Village and Winery and starts at $94 per ticket. biltmore.com
- Bonus: Watch this behind the scenes video of the experience from 2019.
Lights on the Neuse
- Where? Boyette Family Farms, 1620 Loop Rd., Clayton, N.C.
- When? Nov. 27-28 and weekends (including Thursdays and Sundays) from Dec. 4-24, 2020. Consult website for dates.
- Why go? A 1-mile long, 30-minute tractor-pulled hayride around the farm and adjacent to the river.
- Pro tips: Consider bringing blankets so you can bundle up during the open-air hayride. Bring your own camera if you want to take photos with Santa.
- COVID-19 precautions: “Santa will be keeping his distance, but he’s still able to hear children’s requests and take photos,” according to the website. Reservations aren’t necessary, but buying advance timed tickets is encouraged.
- Details: Walk through. $11.50 for hayride and Santa photo (taken with your camera). lightsontheneuse.com
- Where? Airlie Gardens, 300 Airlie Rd.
- When? Dec. 4-22, 2020. Timed tickets are good for one hour beginning at 5:30, 6:30, 7:30 and 8:30 p.m.
- Why go? It’s been a New Hanover County tradition since 2005. Enjoy holiday lights, music and displays on a half-mile, walkable, self-guided tour.
- Pro tip: Tickets always sell out well in advance. Order early.
- COVID-19 precautions: “We’ve made changes to make the event safer,” said Janine Powell, an event organizer. “We’ve changed the paths and added new light features. We will not have Santa this year but will have a mailbox for letters to him.” Also, there won’t be any food and beverage vendors.
- Details: Walk through. Timed tickets (available only online) are $30 per carload and $55 per vanload. People with larger vehicles such as mini-buses should contact Airlie about pricing. airliegardens.org
Upstate Holiday Light Show
- Where? Greenville-Pickens Speedway, 3800 Calhoun Memorial Highway, Easley, S.C.
- When? Open seven days a week from through Dec. 31. Timed entry from 6 to 10:45 p.m.
- Why go? It’s Upstate South Carolina’s largest interactive holiday light show. You can drive around the track as many times as you want. Tune your radio to one of two stations to hear either traditional Christmas music or a show especially for kids.
- Pro tip: Skip the line with a fast pass, which starts at $80 per vehicle.
- COVID-19 precautions: Santa Land and the ice skating rink are closed this year, and the petting zoo is now drive-through.
- Details: Drive through. Prices start at $30 per vehicle. greenvillepickens.com
Anderson’s Christmas Light Show
- Where? The corner of Martin Luther King Blvd. and Woodcrest Drive, across the street from the Anderson Civic Center and behind Anderson Mall.
- When? Thanksgiving through Christmas from 5:30 to 10 p.m.
- Why go? Now in its 28th year, the event features over 2.5 miles of illuminated roads, 210 displays, millions of multicolored lights and 45 acres. It’s one of the Upstate’s largest drive-through Christmas lights displays.
- Pro tips: “Slower nights are Sunday through Thursday,” said Ben Phillips, director of Anderson Lights for Hope. “We allow multiple times around the park, so you can stay until we turn out the lights.”
- COVID-19 precautions: The event has been converted to a drive-through. Santa won’t be there. However, “Santa has been known to make a special appearance on Friday and Saturday nights at the exit gate,” according to a press release. He’ll wave from a safe distance.
- Details: $10 per car, cash or card. No advance reservations. Proceeds benefit nonprofits including Cancer Association of Anderson, Anderson Habitat for Humanity and more. andersonchristmaslights.com
Holiday Lights Safari
- Where? Hollywild Animal Preserve, a 100-acre park at 2325 Hampton Road.
- When? Nov. 20, 2020-Jan. 2, 2021 from 6 to 9 p.m. Open until 10 p.m. on Dec. 4 and 5, Dec. 11 and 12, Dec. 18-20.
- Why go? It’s been happening for 30 years! A life-sized nativity and other religious displays are part of the experience.
- Pro tip: For an extra $10, drive through the Enchanted Deer Forest, and animals will approach your car and eat right out of your hands.
- COVID-19 precaution: Santa’s Village won’t be part of the event this year.
- Details: Drive through. Admission is $7 per person. Admission to the Enchanted Deer Forest is optional with an additional charge of $10 per vehicle, which includes a bag of animal food. hollywild.org
Cheekwood Holiday LIGHTS
- Where? Cheekwood Estate & Gardens, 1200 Forrest Park Drive, Nashville, Tenn.
- When? Nov. 20, 2020-Jan. 10, 2021 from 5-10 p.m. (Closed Christmas Day.) Dates, hours, activities and capacity are subject to change based on CDC guidance and Mayor John Cooper’s “Roadmap to Reopening Nashville” plan.
- Why go? New this year, Holiday Lights will be presented alongside the glass works of artist Dale Chihuly. Also new: the partnership with the Nashville Ballet to present a collection of nutcrackers and costumes from Nashville’s “Nutcracker” throughout the mansion and museum.
- Pro tips: Avoid crowds by visiting during the day or in the evening Mondays through Wednesdays. Medical & Military Mondays happen each week from Nov. 23 through Jan. 4. All military personnel, first responders and medical professionals get 50% off up to five tickets for immediate family members.
- COVID-19 precautions: Reduced capacity, timed-entry tickets that must be purchased in advance, masks required in the Mansion and Reindeer Village, one-way paths through the site promote social distancing.
- Details: Walk through. $22 for adults, $17 for youth ages 3-17, free for children 2 and under. Holiday LIGHTS is a timed-ticketed event, and discounted packages are available. Parking is included in the ticket price. cheekwood.org
Christmas Nights of Lights at Coney Island
- Where? 6201 Kellogg Ave. in Cincinnati.
- When? Nov. 6, 2020-Jan. 9, 2021 nightly from dusk through 10 p.m.
- Why go? It’s the city’s largest synchronized light show. More than 1 million LED lights are controlled by more than 10,000 computer channels. The light show is synchronized to both traditional and pop/rock holiday music through your car radio. New this year: “Dancing” Christmas trees, an elf scavenger hunt for kids and an extension to the sparkling lights tunnel.
- Pro tip: To avoid crowds, visit on a weekday or weekends after 9 p.m.
- COVID-19 precaution: “Thankfully, Christmas Nights of Lights is already set up to be a socially distanced event,” said Marley Wallace, assistant brand manager. “Guests do not leave their vehicles at any point during the event.”
- Details: Drive through. $7 per person; children 3 and under free. Purchase in advance or at the gate. coneyislandpark.com
Journey BOREALIS: An Artful Adventure through the Holiday Lights
- Where? Pyramid Hill Sculpture Park and Museum, 1763 Hamilton-Cleves Rd., Hamilton, Ohio.
- When? Nov. 20, 2020-Jan. 3, 2021, Monday through Thursday from 6-9 p.m. and Friday and Saturday from 6-10 p.m.
- Why go? You never have to leave your car on the 2-mile round-trip journey. Pyramid Hill is a 300-acre sculpture park with more than 80 giant outdoor sculptures displayed in a landscape of rolling hills, meadows, lakes and trails. New this year: the “visual art experience” featuring local and regional new media and light-based artists.
- Pro tips: “Download the Journey BOREALIS soundtrack app before you get to the park,” suggests Sean FitzGibbons, executive director of Pyramid Hill. “Even though gates open at 6 p.m., if you get here a little later, you’ll miss most of the line. Weekends, holidays and Tuesdays are the busiest days.”
- COVID-19 precaution: “For the past 20 years, guests have always experienced our holiday light show from inside the safety of their vehicle,” said FitzGibbons. “Pyramid Hill is thrilled to be a safe source of holiday cheer this year.”
- Details: Drive through. $20 per carload Mondays through Thursdays; $25 per carload Fridays through Sundays. pyramidhill.org
- Where? Newfields, 4000 Michigan Rd., Indianapolis, Ind.
- When? Nov. 21, 2020-Jan. 3, 2021 from 5 to 9 p.m.
- Why go? 1.5 million lights throughout forest, field and gardens. New this year: Huckleberry Funk’s cover of Donny Hathaway’s “This Christmas” will be added to the Landscape of Light. Chocolate chip cookies and popcorn are available for purchase, served alongside Sun King Brewing Co.’s Electric Reindeer, West Fork Whiskey’s cider and Newfields’ own hot cocoa.
- Pro tips: Advance tickets are required. Newfields is a cashless campus, so be sure to have a credit or debit card. Plan to spend about 90 minutes. Arrive 15 minutes before your ticket time to keep the check-in process smooth and social distancing possible
- COVID-19 precautions: This is an outdoor experience. They’re operating at 25% capacity, and social distancing and one-way traffic are enforced. A face mask is required in all public spaces. Parents are encouraged to follow CDC guidelines regarding the use of masks on children over the age of 2.
- Details: Walk through. People generally spend between 60 and 90 minutes. Tickets range from $13 to $25. Children 5 and under are free. discovernewfields.org
Light Up the Holidays
- Where? Cranes Roost Park, Altamonte Springs, Fla.
- When? Nov. 26, 2020-Jan. 3, 2021. Nightly at dusk.
- Why go? Live music on select nights and holiday displays featuring 200,000 lights and a 60-foot tree decorated with thousands of ornaments and a mile of garland.
- Pro tip: Don’t miss special shows at the Plaza fountain featuring “dancing water and dazzling lights choreographed to classic holiday tunes,” according to the website. Shows run nightly at 6, 7, 8 and 9 p.m.
- COVID-19 precaution: Advance registration beginning Dec. 1, is required for live music events.
- Details: Walk through. Free. http://www.altamonte.org/788/Light-Up-the-Holidays
Bivona Christmas Light Show
- Where? 1601 N. Wind Court, Winter Springs, Fla.
- When? Tree lighting takes place Dec. 1 from 5-9 p.m. The light displays will be up from Dec. 1, 2020 to Jan. 1, 2021 from 6-10 p.m. Sunday through Thursday and from 6-11 p.m. Friday and Saturday.
- Why go? This is peak Griswold! There are 75,000 lights, nine LED screens and a dozen inflatables. A tradition dating back 36 years, founder Charlie Bivona began with the desire to win his neighborhood Christmas lights contest. (He did.) After Charlie’s death in 2004, his oldest son, Andy, took over.
- Pro tips: Allow about 35 minutes to see it all. Traffic is heavier the week of Christmas.
- Details: Drive through. Free. @BivonaChristmas (Facebook).
St. Petersburg/Clearwater area
Holiday Lights in the Gardens
- Where? 12520 Ulmerton Rd. in Largo.
- When? Daily beginning at 5:30 p.m. from Nov. 29, 2020-Jan. 4, 2021.
- Why go? Over 1 million LED lights twinkle throughout the Botanical Gardens and highlight the plants and nature- and holiday-themed light displays.
- Pro tip: There’s entertainment each night.
- Details: A donation of $5 is encouraged. visitstpeteclearwater.com