Dazzling Holiday Lights

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Every December, millions of people brighten their Christmas trees and their homes with the magical glow of holiday lights.  While the big cities, spectacular displays draw captivated crowds year after year. From Thanksgiving to New Years, the landscape sparkles with radiant light and color.  Here are a few destinations to visit during the holidays to check out spectacular holiday displays. 

Baltimore, Maryland

Baltimore is a city rich in Christmas tradition.  In the waterfront district of Fell's Point, carolers in colonial costumes stroll down streets draped with 18th century decorations.

The historic Admiral Fell Inn is trimmed with early American ornaments and greenery.  Sitting by the fire, you can nibble on gingerbread with a resident ghost, Miss April who tells stories.  During high tea, Guests also get the opportunity to decorate their own gingerbread men.

One of Baltimore's many row house neighborhoods, the 700 block of 34th Street in Hampden is known during the holidays as Christmas Street .  The miracle of lights on 34th Street is one of the city's most famous holiday sights.  Everyone on the block lends a hand to make sure each of the 22 homes along the street is decorated.

One of the street's most popular displays is an eight foot Christmas tree made entirely of hubcaps by folk artist Jim Pollock. It adds a unique sparkle to the street that attracts up to 2,000 people every night.

Texas
Just outside Houston, TX, Prestonwood Forest is a suburban development with me than 750 houses.  Back in 1978, a group of residents on one street decided to coordinate all their holiday displays around a single theme.  

Over the years, other Prestonwood residents followed suit, choosing holiday themes for almost every block in the subdivision. One reoccurring theme is based on the popular book called 'The Night Before Christmas in Texas.'  Each home on the block displays one page of the story. 

On the second Sunday of December, all the lights are turned on at once throughout the subdivision.  This marks the beginning of what is now known as Prestonwood's Night of Lights.  During the two week event, more than 15,000 drive through this one of a kind Christmas tradition.

In Johnson City, TX, Dexter Haynes hangs thousands of holiday lights, but it isn't about winning prizes.  He just wants to share his deep love of Christmas.  Dexter, also known to locals as the Christmas boy, began hanging Christmas lights around the house when he was 11.

Today, his love for Christmas and preparation for the holiday season starts a year in advance.  Dexter works on his display beginning the day after Christmas when everything goes on sale. Every element of the display is planned by March.  He spends the summer and fall checking his equipment.  

Dexter's Christmas display can be seen from the nearby highway.  The standouts among the dozens of shimmering sights are a 12 ft. star, a 25 ft. merry Christmas sign, and the most popular feature, a drive-thru illuminated tunnel.

California
Tourists and residents looking to check out dazzling Christmas lights in California should head to Balboa Island, a manmade stretch of land off Newport Beach.  Just 1.71 miles long, Balboa Island is home to the annual Parade of Lights.  Some homeowners in the area decorate their homes with up to 30,000 multicolored lights and other dazzling displays. Some owners parade their boats, donned with holiday lights, around the island during the holiday season.

All this razzle-dazzle isn't for nothing.  Residents feverishly come up with new ways to decorate their homes and front yards to compete in the annual Christmas competition for the city's top award - the sweepstakes prize for best home.

During, the holidays, thousands of visitors plan a trip to see the Festival of Light at the Mission Inn of Riverside, located just 60 miles from Los Angeles. The Inn is one of the most popular holiday light displays in Southern California. 

From the elegant Spanish patio to the shimmering swimming pool, The Mission Inn is draped in more than two and half million lights. Twenty men and women work from the end of September right through Thanksgiving to install and prep the Inn's interior and exterior with Christmas decorations.

The balconies are decorated with 275 animated holiday figures.  Whimsical carriages take visitors on a ride around the block to view the displays.  Welcoming 30,000 people on its first night alone, the Festival of Light at The Mission Inn has proven to be not only beautiful, but profitable.

Chicago, Illinois
If you like your holidays cold, snow, and sparkling with holiday lights, Chicago is the perfect Christmas destination.  Through the swirling flakes, the Windy City shimmers with a special brilliance during the holiday season.  From the Navy Pier to Millennium Park and the Miracle Mile, this town radiates Christmas cheer.

When you have had enough cold, you will find some of the most impressive lighting displays indoors, starting with the Museum of Science and Industry's  'Christmas Around the World' exhibit.  Every year different ethnic groups from all around Chicago come to the museum to decorate the trees.  Each tree incorporates different Christmas traditions or legends.

'Christmas Around the World' began in World War II as a tribute to U.S. allied nations that were coming together to fight in the war. There was only one tree that all the allies would come in on a different day and decorate.

Another timeless hotspot for kids and grownups is the legendary Macy's  Department Store.  Every December a constant stream of children press their noses to the glass of the display windows on State Street.

The store's main holiday attraction is the 45-foot tall Christmas tree with 1200 Swarovski crystal ornaments, including a 6-foot tree topper.  It's sight no Chicagoan or visitor should miss.

New York City
Everything is bigger, brighter, and more colorful in New York City.  That is especially true when it comes to holiday lights.  From the Hotel Plaza Athenee you can take a private two-hour tour of New York's most spectacular holiday lights.

Destinations include Tavern on the Green , the famous Manhattan restaurant in Central Park.  The Empire State Building is bathed in red and green spotlights. There is no question that 30 Rock is the most popular Christmas spot for New Yorkers and visitors alike.

The first Christmas tree was erected in Rockefeller Plaza in 1931 by the demolition crew who was preparing the site.  They decorated the tree with handmade tinsel and ornaments fashioned from blasting caps. Two years later, a 50-foot evergreen was raised at Christmas and decorated with 700 lights.

Elsewhere in Manhattan, one of the hidden Christmas treasures is in the north at the Bronx Zoo, which has a unique take on holiday light displays.  Every evening from mid-November to New Years, visitors stroll along the zoo's tree-lined pathways gazing at 150 illuminated animal sculptures. 

It takes six months of planning and two months of constant work to put up close to a million lights, which also include the lights to deck out the zoo's buildings.

While holiday magic at the Bronx Zoo spread out over 265 acres, Rolf's Restaurant in Manhattan packs its astonishing Christmas decor in only 1500 square feet.  Every inch of this popular eatery, from the 19th century oak bar to the beamed wooden ceiling, is dripping with holiday decorations.

At this time of year, the menu also includes traditional German delicacies, like Christmas goose and a holiday drink called neuwein.  Many customers come back year after year as part of their annual holiday celebration.

Nevada
The neon glow of Las Vegas lights up the desert all year long.  So it's no surprise this city does Christmas like nowhere else.  The holiday display at the Bellagio Hotel's Conservatory is a perfect example of Vegas-style Christmas decorating.

If you venture out of Vegas to the nearby desert town of Henderson, NV, you will find a hidden holiday treasure that is just as eye-popping as anything on the Strip.  It's a mecca for two Christmas fixtures - lights and chocolate.

At Ethel's Chocolate Lounge, more than 600 tons of chocolate are churned out every year.  During the holidays, production really escalates.  The burst of seasonal productivity can be viewed up close on one of the chocolate tours, where chocolate is still handmade.

Visitors can also head to Cactus Botanical Gardens where they will find over 300 species of cacti and succulents.  The idea of stringing holiday lights around the prickly plants began 12 years ago to keep some species warm during the cold winter months.  Today, over a million lights bathe the 3-acre garden in a vibrant glow.

Each species are wrapped in a specific color so that customers can identify them as they walk through.  Tucked among the lit cacti are moving reindeer, gingerbread men, lollipops, and Santa Claus himself.  It's enough to put anyone in a jolly Christmas mood, even in the middle of the dessert.

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