Holiday Light Shows 2019: Southeast Region

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In the southeastern states, holiday lights spread seasonal cheer on the wind just as the sweet scents and verdant growth enlivens the senses in more temperate months. From Virginia’s Blue Ridge Mountains to the Florida Everglades, and stretching westward to the Ozarks of Arkansas and the Louisiana Bayou, festive spirit here is mixed with a hearty dose of southern hospitality—spanning elegant refinement and folksy charm.

As mentioned in Part One of this series, operating hours, dates and admission costs for each venue vary widely, so please check event websites for specifics before planning a visit. As for cost, many of the venues have a primary goal to raise money for local charities. In such cases, consider the admission fee as a benevolent effort to spread some holiday cheer.

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Above photograph © Gregory Ballos, Lighting of the Square Bentonville, Arkansas

Virginia

There are abundant options for holiday light shows in the Old Dominion state. Outdoor enthusiasts and history buffs will appreciate the Christmas Lighting of the Tunnel display at Natural Tunnel State Park near the southwest Virginia town of Duffield (Friday and Saturday at 6:00 p.m., starting 11/29, then nightly 12/16 - 12/21). Thousands of lights and animated displays entertain visitors descending into the tunnel by chairlift. Once inside, historic reenactors recount frontier stories from 1775, while a warm fire fills the air with the sounds and smells of the holidays.

For the less adventurous, those seeking an armchair viewing experience can pick from several holiday-themed laser light shows. Not far from our nation’s capital, the Concert in Lights Show at Fredericksburg’s Spotsylvania Towne Centre immerses you in lights with a festive touch (hourly shows 6:30 – 9:30 p.m., nightly, 11/9 - 12/24).

And in the coastal city of Newport News, the Abbit Planetarium at the Virginia Living Museum features two holiday-themed laser light shows in a rotating schedule: The Holiday Magic light show features laser lights synchronized to classic holiday tunes, while Star of Wonder: Mystery of the Christmas Star offers an immersive look at the journey of the Magi (most days from 11:30 p.m., 11/27 – 12/31, closed 11/28, 12/24 - 25).

Nearby, in Newport News Park, Virginia’s first drive-through lighting display, Celebration in Lights, thrills attendees with more than a million lights, 350 individual display pieces and 50+ arches. This year’s display adds new lighting effects and updates older displays with energy-efficient LED lights (5:30 – 10:00 p.m., nightly, 11/28 – 1/1).

On the mainland side of the Hampton Roads peninsula, the Norfolk Botanical Garden offers two consecutive light shows to usher in the holiday season. Visitors can stroll through more than a mile of spectacular holiday lighting displays, during the Million Bulb Walk (4:00 – 9:00 p.m., 11/8 – 12/14).

The Gardens also host its 25th annual light show extravaganza Dominion Garden of Lights (5:30 – 10:00 p.m., 12/15 - 31). In this 2-mile drive-through experience, the Garden is transformed into a winter wonderland featuring a million sparkling lights that bring the four seasons to life.

Mario Barkley

Photographer Mario Barkley highly recommends this event to holiday visitors to the Hampton Roads area. “Spectators travel across the gardens in their cars to view the wonderful decorations,” he says. Barkley captured the image above using a Canon EOS 5D Mark III and EF 17-40mm f/4L lens.

West Virginia

Holiday celebrations in the Mountain State range from the epic production of a grand resort to the homegrown efforts of dedicated volunteers bursting with community spirit.

In the Appalachian foothills, Oglebay Resort’s Winter Festival of Lights enlivens the northern city of Wheeling with what is arguably one of the nation’s largest holiday events, spanning 300 acres along a 6-mile drive (nightly, from dusk, 11/7 – 1/5). The festival’s 90 displays include a 300-foot-long rainbow tunnel, an animated snowflake, larger than life polyhedron star, and cartoon characters galore. New this year, visitors can experience the lights in a whole new way with 3D “Sleigh Bans,” which transform every point of light into a magical display.

Southeast of Wheeling, the city of Fairmont welcomes the holidays with the drive-through Celebration of Lights (Friday – Sunday, 6:00 – 10:00 p.m., 11/22 – 12/28), an annual fundraiser for the United Way of Marion County. More than 475 holiday displays illuminate the 1.3-mile path through the city’s Morris Park, with special events such as the Market in the Park (5:00 – 9:00 p.m., 11/16), a Reindeer Run 5K (6:00 p.m., 12/5) and a Walkers Night (6:00 – 10:00 p.m., 12/12) adding to the community spirit.

Along the state’s western border, the riverfront city of Parkersburg celebrates the season with Holiday in the Park (nightly, 11/23 – 12/31), a drive-through route linking City and Southwood Parks, and featuring more than 80 animated and still holiday light displays. Included among the decorations are three winning displays produced by community members, based on a competition for holiday-themed drawings by area school children.

At the state’s southern tip, the city of Bluefield hosts a Holiday of Lights drive-through (Sunday – Thursday, 6:00 – 9:00 p.m., weekends until 10, 11/28 – 12/31), featuring more than 1.3 million lights that cover 40+ acres in the city’s Tony Lotito Park. Billed as the second-largest light show in the state, new pieces are added every year, and legacy lights get an updated look. Special events such as a 5K race, a walk through the park on select nights, bonfires, hayrides, and a trolley ride to visit Santa add to the fun for the whole family.

Steven Wayne Rotsch

And, in keeping with the state’s motto based in the great outdoors, Southwestern West Virginia’s Chief Logan State Park celebrates the holidays with the annual Christmas in the Park light show (nightly, from dusk to 10:00 p.m., 11/28 – 12/31), showcasing more than 200 LED displays that wind through the park’s 2-mile drive.

West Virginia-based photojournalist Steven Wayne Rotsch captured the park’s festive ambience with a 35mm Nikon film camera stabilized with a Manfrotto Tripod and 3-Way Pan/Tilt head, using 100 ASA FUJIFILM Velvia slide film, which he then digitized using a Nikon Super Coolscan. He estimates his exposure settings were around 1/15 second at f/8.

“The use of slide film was a great teacher for most photographers, because a 1/2 stop of exposure was about all the film would allow,” he notes. “So, you had to be dead-on or bracket the exposures, and bracketing ate up a roll of film quickly.”

Rotsch, who has served as the personal photographer for five West Virginia Governors, knows the state like the back of his hand. “I’ve had great access to the state's splendor since moving here in 1985,” he says.

Kentucky

There’s no horsing around with holiday lights in the Bluegrass State. The Southern Lights Holiday Festival brightens the Kentucky Horse Park in Lexington, with a driving tour of more than three miles along the Iron Works Parkway (nightly, from 5:30 – 10:00 p.m., 11/29 through 12/31). After viewing the lights, the park’s interior features a variety of added attractions, tempting every member of the family with treats such as local crafts, model trains and mini train rides, and even an exotic petting zoo (11/29 – 12/23 only).

In northern Kentucky, 16 miles southwest of Cincinnati, Ohio, the community of Burlington hosts the Light Up the Fair Holiday Light Show, at the Boone County Fairgrounds, where attendees can drive through more than 500,000 lights synchronized to holiday tunes (nightly, beginning at 5:30 p.m., 11/8 – 1/4).

Along Kentucky’s eastern border, the city of Ashland hosts an annual Winter Wonderland Festival in Central Park (dusk to 10:00 p.m., Sunday – Thursday, 11:00 p.m. on weekends, 11/18 – 1/5), featuring an extensive light display, train rides on the Winter Wonderland Express (6:00 – 9:00 p.m., Friday – Sunday through 12/22), and a Christmas parade (7:00 p.m., 11/27).

And for a subterranean holiday treat, visit Louisville’s Mega Cavern and take in the world’s only fully underground drive-through holiday light show. Lights Under Louisville transforms a section of this former limestone quarry into an underground holiday light spectacular, where visitors can enjoy a 30-minute ride through part of the cavern’s 17 miles of underground passageways, featuring more than 3,000,000 points of light and 850 lit characters (weeknights, 6:00 – 10:00 p.m., weekends from 5:00 p.m., 11/15 – 1/4).

Jane Inman Stormer

“I visited Lights Under Louisville at the Louisville Mega Cavern as a fun office holiday outing,” says Jane Inman Stormer. “The lights are extensive, covering nostalgic holiday characters, and highlighting the new classics, as well. It is a great event for families, and the cave makes for a unique experience.”

Stormer captured the image above using her Canon EOS Rebel T3i with an EF17-40mm f/4L USM lens. She notes, “Photographers should be prepared for a challenge due to low light, and since it is a drive-through show, the subjects are moving.”

Tennessee

While Tennessee is widely acclaimed for its musical finesse, its holiday light shows are no less spectacular. In the capital of Nashville, the elegant Holiday Lights at Cheekwood offers up seasonal merriment with a walking tour of the botanical gardens adorned by a million colorful lights (nightly, from 5:00 – 10:00 p.m., 11/23 – 1/5, closed 12/25).

Thirty-two miles east, the city of Lebanon hosts two drive-through light shows: the DIY quaintness of Chad's Winter Wonderland, a past participant in the Great Christmas Light Fight (nightly, from 6:00 – 10:00 p.m., 11/28 - 12/30), and the energetically choreographed Dancing Lights of Christmas at Jellystone Park, where 1.5 million lights are backed up by a Santa’s Village complete with pony rides, a bungee trampoline, mechanical reindeer, and more (weeknights, 5:00 – 10:00 p.m., 11:00 p.m. weekends, 11/16 - 1/4).

In southern Tennessee, where Chattanooga spills into Georgia’s Lookout Mountain, Rock City’s Enchanted Garden of Lights offers visitors a holiday lighting spectacular with four uniquely themed realms: The Magic Forest, Arctic Kingdom, North Pole Village, and Yule Town (nightly, until 9:00 p.m., 11/16 - 12/31).

In the Eastern Tennessee cities of Sevierville, Pigeon Forge, and Gatlinburg, the 30th Annual Smoky Mountain Winterfest has the area decked out with more than 15 million lights over a 25-mile stretch (11/22 – 2/17).

Chad Branton

Photographer Chad Branton, who also serves as Art Director for the Sevierville Convention & Visitors Bureau, and Chamber of Commerce, captured the excitement of enthusiastic visitors to Shadrack's Christmas Wonderland at the Tennessee Smokies Baseball Stadium in nearby Kodak (6:00 – 10:00 p.m. nightly, 11/8 - 1/5).

“The vehicle had almost come to a complete stop, making this image a lot easier for me to accomplish,” Branton says. “Capturing the reflections of the drive-through light show bouncing off the car's black paint was a huge bonus, but I had to be careful not to capture myself in the reflection too.”

This shot’s high production value was achieved by lighting the scene with an Interfit EX300 Flash Head and White Beauty Dish on an Impact Heavy-Duty Light Stand. With the lighting set, Branton secured his Canon 5D Mark II and EF 70-200mm f/4L IS USM lens to a Manfrotto 290 Xtra Aluminum Tripod with 804 3-Way Pan/Tilt Head, adding a Canon Tripod Mount Ring to further stabilize the lens. With his ISO set to 3200, Branton racked his lens to 47mm and used a 1/8 second exposure time with the lens wide open. A -0.7 exposure bias also helped to control contrast.

“As if the giant animated light displays aren't enough fun, the little guy in the picture is wearing a set of Winterfest In 3D glasses,” he recounts, “which shifts every point of light into the shape of a snowflake!”

North Carolina

There are gardens galore in the Tarheel State, many of which host festive holiday light displays.

In the southwestern city of Asheville, the North Carolina Arboretum’s Winter Lights display (6:00 – 10:00 p.m. nightly, 11/22 – 1/4) offers more than 500,000 LED lights across a 3-acre walking tour, plus interactive games, a model train exhibit, and 50-foot animated tree that comes alive to the sound of your favorite holiday tunes.

For holiday lights in a luxury setting, take in a Candlelight Christmas Evening at Asheville’s Biltmore estate (5:30 – 9:00 p.m., 11/1 – 1/4, except 11/19, 11/28, 12/24, 12/25) for elegant decorations, live music, and a self-guided tour of this Gilded Age treasure.

135 miles northeast, the rolling countryside of Forsyth County is transformed into a winter wonderland through the Tanglewood Festival of Lights, boasting giant, twinkling snowflakes and other whimsical scenes (6:00 – 11:00 p.m., 11/15 - 1/1, only 10:00 p.m. on 12/31). The 5-mile drive-through route contains more than 100 displays, comprising more than a million LED lights. Additionally, for a limited time, visitors can bask in the splendor of the lights while camping out at the Tanglewood RV Campground (through 12/2).

Continuing eastward to the city of Cary, the North Carolina Chinese Lantern Festival (6:00 – 10:00 p.m., Tuesday – Sunday, 11/22 – 1/12, plus Monday 12/23, 12/30) transforms the Koka Booth Amphitheater into an East-meets-West holiday spectacle. Hundreds of gigantic lanterns are hand assembled by visiting Chinese artisans, and then illuminated by more than 15,000 LED lights to create a dazzling walk-through display.

Seventy miles south, the Cape Fear Botanical Gardens celebrates nine years of its Holiday Lights in the Garden display (5:30 – 9:00 p.m., 12/5 – 8, 13 – 15, 19 – 23) in the city of Fayetteville. Take a romantic stroll through gardens aglow with nearly 1 million lights or enjoy a family hayride, a visit with Santa, and holiday snacks.

Ninety miles southeast, in the coastal city of Wilmington, take in the sparkling sights and festive sounds of the holiday season at Airlie Gardens during the Enchanted Airlie event (5:00 – 9:00 p.m., 11/29 – 30, 12/6 – 22). Stroll through the garden’s more than 30 acres on a self-guided tour of holiday lights, festive music, and whimsical displays. Also in attendance each night, Santa Claus himself!

Airlie Gardens/Brett Cottrell

Brett Cottrell has photographed Enchanted Airlie as a Media Production Specialist in the New Hanover County Communications and Outreach department. For the image above, he steadied his Canon 5D Mark III and EF 16-35mm f/2.8L II USM lens atop a Manfrotto 055 tripod and Induro BHD2 ball head. Framing up the lights on both sides of the path, set his aperture to f/4.5 for a 1/5 second shot at ISO 640.

Says Cottrell, "I've photographed Enchanted Airlie a number of times, yet each year offers a new and exciting challenge. The evolution to more LED lighting requires a different approach to nail the exposure. Shooting RAW allows me maximum dynamic range to really dial-in the shot and create an image that does justice to this beautiful display. My number one tip for this type of shot,” he adds, “is to either use the self-timer or fire the camera with a remote, as any little shake can ruin your shot."

South Carolina

On the South Carolina coast just outside Mrytle Beach, Brookgreen Gardens hosts Nights of a Thousand Candles, where visitors can stroll the grounds illuminated by the soft glow of more than 2,700 hand-lit candles, and countless sparkling lights (3:00 – 10:00 p.m., Thursday – Sunday, 12/5 – 12/21).

Van Sutherland

Photographer Van Sutherland says, “Brookgreen Gardens is an amazing locale for photography any time of the year, but this event offers something out of the ordinary. Numerous ponds and fountains are illuminated by candles floating in glass bowls, with lights strung though ancient live oaks.”

Sutherland captured the image above using an Olympus E-M1 and M.Zuiko 7-14mm f/2.8 lens. With his ISO set to 200 and his lens at f/8, he shot an 8-second exposure with the camera resting on a low wall enclosing the pond. He offers prospective visitors a valuable photo tip: “No tripods are allowed, although monopods are permitted, so photographers will need to be creative to capture the lighting.”

Further along the coastline, Charleston's Holiday Festival of Lights, at James Island County Park, features a driving tour of more than 700 displays and 2 million lights. Alternatively, visitors can park the car and see the lights from the vantage point of a holiday train, ride a Victorian carousel, sample treats from Santa's Sweet Shoppe, or admire seasonally themed sand sculptures and gingerbread houses. (Sunday – Thursday: 5:30 – 10:00 p.m., weekends until 11:00 p.m., 11/15 to 12/31).

Joseph Nienstedt

“The James Island Festival of Lights is a Charleston tradition that gives you an excuse to listen to holiday music and indulge in some hot cocoa and s'mores,” says local photographer Joseph W Nienstedt.

To capture this 1-second motion-blur shot Nienstedt handheld a Nikon D90 and Tokina AT-X 116 PRO DX-II 11-16 f/2.8 lens wide open, while riding as a passenger in a car. “I experimented with slow shutter speeds while in motion to capture the movement through the bright colors,” he adds.

Georgia

Festive light displays at private gardens are a much-loved holiday tradition in Georgia. From Fantasy in Lights at Pine Mountain’s Callaway Resort & Gardens (nightly, from 6:00 p.m., until 11/15 – 1/4), to the Lighting of the Ruins at the Barnsley Resort, in Adairsville (select evenings until 8:00 p.m., 11/27 – 1/1), and beyond, the holiday season is a great time to explore the region’s top lighting displays.

In the capital of the Peachtree state, the Atlanta Botanical Garden is transformed into a holiday fantasy land for the Garden Lights event (6:00 – 11:00 p.m. nightly, 11/16 – 1/11). Impressive light displays include the high-tech Nature's Wonders, where countless strands of dancing lights are strung high over the woodlands and synchronized to illuminate the setting’s natural flora.

Mark Chandler

Working on Vanguard Alta Pro Carbon Fiber Tripod, photographer Mark Chandler captured the image above with his Canon EOS 7D and EF-S 18-55 f/3.5-5.6 IS II lens. “Garden Lights is a wonderful annual event, and many photographers enjoy trying to capture the beauty and holiday spirit of the display,” he says. “The event is popular and tends to sell out, particularly on weekend nights, so those planning to attend this year should get their tickets early.”

Arkansas

Arkansas hosts an annual statewide event, where more than 60 communities offer light shows, parades, tree-lighting ceremonies and other harbingers of the holiday season. Through the Trail of Holiday Lights, visitors can find a light display to brighten up their night in every region of the Natural State.

The options range from popular drive-throughs such as the Enchanted Land of Lights and Legends in Pine Bluff (6:00 – 9:00 p.m. nightly, 11/26 – 12/25), and Sherwood's Enchanted Forest Trail of Lights (6:00 – 9:30 p.m. nightly, 12/2 – 12/30), to the otherworldly lit walkways of Hot Springs’ Garvan Woodland Gardens (4:00 – 9:00 p.m. nightly, 11/23 - 12/31, closed 11/28, 12/25) in the center of the state, to Blytheville’s Lights of the Delta (nightly, Sunday – Thursday, 5:30 – 9:00 p.m., 10:00 p.m. weekends, 11/25 – 12/27) in the state’s northeast corner, which boasts more than 6 million lights, and more than 40 major motion displays across 40 acres of a former Air Force Base.

In the state’s northwest corner, the city of Bentonville ushers in the holiday season with the Lighting of the Square (4:00 – 6:30 p.m., 11/23), followed by a nightly display of Bentonville’s Trail of Holiday Lights (dusk to dawn through New Year’s Day).

Gregory Ballos

Photographer Gregory Ballos says, “The strings of lights fill up the downtown square area, creating such a great sense of holiday cheer for the local community to experience.”

With his Nikon D800 and 16-35mm f/4G ED VR lens, topped by a Vello Freewave Remote Shutter Release, Ballos secured his rig to a Benro Travel Angel Tripod, and racked his lens wide to capture this overview of the square with a 5-second exposure at f/6.3, and ISO 80, cropping the image to a dramatic panoramic format in post.

“Downtown Bentonville is truly a special place that pairs historic architecture and a sense of the good old days, with a fresh and new vibe that comes from the increasingly diverse demographic, and the growing art scene coming to the area,” Ballos remarks. “In my opinion, the Bentonville light show only enhances those very qualities during the Christmas season.”

Alabama

Thirty minutes southeast of Mobile, the Gulf Coast serves up southern hospitality with an elegant display of holiday lights at Bellingrath Gardens and Home’s 24th annual presentation of Magic Christmas in Lights (5:00 – 9:00 p.m. nightly, 11/29 – 12/31, closed 12/25).

Guests are invited for a 2-mile stroll through a dazzling display featuring more than 3 million lights set among the 65-acre Garden estate. The Bellingrath Home is also decorated in its holiday finery, with tours offered every half hour, and choral performances scheduled on the South Terrace on Sunday through Thursday nights.

Chhorn & Beth Lim, CGI Photography

“My wife Beth had visited Bellingrath as a young child, but I had never been there before,” says photographer Chhorn Lim. “I admit being somewhat skeptical at first, but I was instantly blown away when we arrived. It's truly something you have to experience in person.”

Lim boosted his ISO to 3200 to handhold his Canon 5D Mark III and Sigma 50mm f/1.4 EX DG HSM lens. He exposed the image above for 1/200 of a second at f/1.4.

“The sheer amount of lights, and the way they are organized, as well as realizing the amount of preparation that had to occur, was simply mind-blowing!” he exclaims.

Mississippi

The Magnolia state has you covered for the holidays, from Southern splendor to the old-fashioned appeal of large-scale residential displays.

Just over the border from Memphis, Tennessee, the city of Southaven’s annual Southern Lights drive-through display anchors Mississippi’s northwestern corner with 500,000 twinkling lights amid the city’s 116-acre Central Park, featuring a melodious Christmas Tree Farm, synchronized to music by the Trans-Siberian Orchestra (nightly, 11/28 – 12/30, closed 12/25).

Yet, the best kept secret in the northern part of the state is located 80 miles southeast, at a family-operated 12-acre display known as Christmas in Cotton Plant, which is populated by hundreds of festive inflatables, and more than 700,000 lights (6:00 – 9:00 p.m., Thursday, Friday, Saturday from 11/29 – 12/14, nightly from 12/18 – 25, closed 12/24).

Another family-oriented drive-through brightens the city of Madison, 15 miles north of the capital of Jackson. The Richardson Light Show has expanded from a small residential display to encompass more than 100,000 LED lights, approximately 250 inflatables, hundreds of lighted wireframe characters, and a 23-foot animated tree, all synchronized to music broadcast over your car radio (5:30 – 9:00 p.m., weeknights 11/29 – 12/27, 10:00 p.m. on weekends and 12/20 – 25).

Along the gulf coast, the city of Bay St Louis is transformed into a “magical coastal wonderland,” thanks to Snowflakes in the Bay, when century-old Live Oaks in the downtown depot district are decked out with large illuminated snowflakes, coinciding with a variety of holiday-themed activities, from tree lightings, to concerts, to ice skating, and a parade (nightly, 11/27 – 12/31).

Jane Anne Sawyer

However, the kudos for Mississippi’s most magical show goes to the Gulfport Harbor Lights Winter Festival, which bathes this coastal city in the illumination of more than a million lights, while thrilling children of all ages with a 65-foot Ferris wheel, train and carriage rides, live entertainment, and concessions in Gulfport’s Jones Park (5:30 – 10:30 p.m. nightly, 11/29 – 12/31).

Gulf coast photographer Jane Anne Sawyer combined the Festival’s colorful lights with the area’s coastal vibe, using a Benro Velocity Series 2 Aluminum Tripod with a IH1 Ball Head affixed to her Canon EOS Rebel T6i and Sigma 17-50 f/2.8 lens, set at 35mm. With her ISO at 100, she stopped her lens down to f/16 to add a starlight effect to the lighthouse and streetlights. To avoid camera shake during her 13-second exposure time, Sawyer used a Vello ShutterBoss II Wired Remote Switch, and she tweaked the exposure in post using Adobe Lightroom Classic.

“This winter festival of lights is put on every year by the city of Gulfport,” she says. “I love long-exposure photos, shot without a flash, and if you love night photography like I do, this is a blast to shoot.”

Louisiana

A zest of unique activities, sights and sounds animate the Pelican state, including eight cities and towns that celebrate the season by collaborating on Louisiana’s Holiday Trail of Lights.

In the northwestern Louisiana city of Shreveport, The American Rose Center hosts the whimsical walking event Christmas in Roseland (5:30 – 10:00 p.m., Friday – Sunday, 11/29 – 12/15, then nightly until 12/23), featuring thousands of twinkling lights, dozens of lighted displays, nightly entertainment, rides on the Roseland Express train and more.

Thirty-two miles east of Shreveport, the city of Minden gives a nod to its German heritage as the historic downtown is brought to life with hundreds of life sized nutcrackers and festive floats during the annual Christmas in Minden Festival and Parade (12:00 – 8:00 p.m., 12/14, parade starts at 5:00 p.m.). Or for a taste of the frontier, visit the historic Ivy Vale Plantation for a Candlelight Christmas Tour (4:00 – 7:00 p.m., Saturdays from 11/30 – 12/28) to experience the evolution of antebellum plantation life in northwest Louisiana.

Further east along I-20, in the community of Calhoun, the Hanson family hosts Candy Cane Lane, a drive-through holiday display featuring more than a million lights and interactive displays along a mile-long wooded road (6:00 – 10:00 p.m. nightly, 11/22 - 12/31).

Southeast of Shreveport, the city of Natchitoches transforms the Dark Woods haunted attraction into Christmas in the Park, a family friendly walk-through display (select dates 6:00 – 9:00 p.m., 11/22 – 12/25), while the city’s 93rd Annual Christmas Festival invites visitors to be awed by 300,000 lights illuminating the downtown area, and 100 lighted set pieces along the Cane River (lights on at dusk, 11/23 – 1/6).

The central Louisiana cities of Alexandria and Pineville ring in the season with sparkling lights, community parades, and performing arts, including a Holiday Light Safari at the Alexandria Zoo, with thousands of twinkling lights that transform the zoo into a winter wonderland (5:30 – 8:30 p.m., Thursday – Saturday, 12/5 – 28).

And, in the Big Easy, the famous oaks of New Orleans’s City Park are swathed in more than 500,000 twinkling lights for the magical winter spectacle Celebration in the Oaks. Now in its 33rd year, breathtaking displays are scattered throughout the park’s 25 acres, including the Botanical Garden, Storyland, and Carousel Gardens Amusement Park (open Sunday – Thursday, 6:00 – 10:00 p.m., weekends 5:00 – 11:00 p.m., 11/29 – 1/1, closed 12/24, 12/31, but open 12/25, 6:00 – 9:00 p.m., and varied hours for preview parties 11/22 - 24).

Monika Sapek

Bellevue, Washington-based photographer Monika Sapek visited Celebration in the Oaks with her family during a trip to New Orleans, in December 2016. “We chose to visit New Orleans mainly for good music and food,” she says. “However, after reading about the city attractions, I was delighted to find out that they have a holiday lights festival!”

For the image above, Sapek used a Manfrotto Tripod equipped with an Acratech Ball Head and a Kirk camera plate and L-Bracket to secure her Nikon D7100 and Sigma 18-35mm lens set at 35mm, for a 3-second exposure at f/2.5.

“The biggest challenge in photographing Christmas lights festivals is dealing with the crowds,” she says.

Florida

Miami boasts the world’s largest holiday theme park at Santa’s Enchanted Forest (nightly from 5:00 p.m. – midnight, peak nights until 1:30 a.m., 10/31 – 1/5), and Daytona Beach welcomes the Magic of Lights holiday light spectacle to the Daytona International Speedway (6:00 – 10:00 p.m. most nights, 11/22 – 1/1, opens at 7:00 p.m., 11/28 – 12/1) but as the oldest continuously settled city in the US, St. Augustine draws on the more civilized Spanish tradition of placing white candles in the window during the holidays. For the past 26 years, this ritual has reached new festive heights in Nights of Lights, where some three million points of light illuminate the 144-square-block historic district, featuring live music on weekends, several specialty tours to choose from and much, much more (nightly, 11/23 – 2/2/2020).

Justin Hankins

Photographer Justin Hankins explains, “Millions of twinkling lights illuminate the St. Augustine waterfront to promote a sense of warmth and hospitality.” The photo above was taken at the mouth of the city’s historic Bridge of Lions. Working with a Canon EOS 300D and an EF-S 18-55mm f/3.5-5.6 IS II lens set at f/11, Hankins made a 5-second exposure shortly after sunset to preserve some of the deep blue of dusk, while also allowing the car headlights to contribute to the scene.

Click below to read the companion articles in this series, Holiday Light Shows Northeast, Holiday Light Shows Midwest, Holiday Light Shows Southwest, Holiday Light Shows West Coast.

Do you have a favorite Holiday Lighting event not mentioned above, or a cherished memory at one of these sites? Tell us about it in the Comments section, below!

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