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Merry and Bright

Take a visual tour of the South’s Top 10
holiday lighting displays.

Throughout the South, the holidays are ushered in each year with wonderful holiday light festivals. Join us on this tour of 10 of the region’s best and brightest, organized alphabetically by state, that surely will bring Christmas cheer to you and yours.

Garvan Lights

Garvan Woodland Gardens in Hot Springs has a magical mood during the holidays.

Don’t miss the extra slideshow at the end of this article.

1. Bellingrath Gardens Magic Christmas in Lights
(Mobile, Ala.)

See more than 3 million sparkling lights in 950 displays throughout the 65-acre garden estate. Enjoy nightly choral performances on the South Terrace of the Bellingrath Home. Magic Christmas in Lights is open Nov. 29–Dec. 31 (closed Christmas day).

2. lights of the ozarks
(fayetteville, ark.)

This wonderland of lights on the Downtown Square begins Nov. 23 at 6 p.m. with a parade. Nightly carriage and pony rides, hot chocolate, and festive holiday music add to the historical square’s ambience. Each year, Fayetteville Parks and Recreation workers spend more than 2,000 hours decorating the Downtown Square with 450,000 lights. In addition, a drive-through display is at the Washington County Fairgrounds.


3. garvan woodland gardens holiday lights
(hot springs, ark.)

Central Arkansas’s botanical treasure is beautiful in any season, but for the holidays, it sparkles with more than 2 million lights. Open nightly from 5–9 p.m. (except Thanksgiving and Christmas), the display will run from Nov. 23 through Dec. 31.


4. mickey’s very merry christmas party walt disney world
(orlando, fla.)

For families wanting to go all out for the holidays, it’s tough to beat the spectacle that happens at Walt Disney World Resort. For 25 years, Mickey’s Very Merry Christmas Party at the Magic Kingdom has wowed guests with entertainment, lights, fireworks, and more.

Dates this year will be Nov. 8, 11, 14, 15, 17, 21, 22; and Dec. 1, 3, 5, 6, 8, 10, 12, 13, 15, 17, 19, and 20. Beginning at 7 p.m. (after regular park hours), guests enjoy holiday shows, parades, fireworks, Disney characters in holiday attire, and Cinderella’s Castle, transformed into an ice palace with 200,000 white lights and special effects.

This is a ticketed event, and advance purchase is highly recommended.

At Epcot, hear celebrity narrators tell the Christmas story, holiday music performed by choirs and a live orchestra, and see a stirring candlelight processional at 6:45 and 8:15 p.m. from Nov. 29–Dec. 30.

Holiday magic also happens at Hollywood Studios, Disney’s Animal Kingdom, throughout Downtown Disney, and at the many resorts, which are dressed up for the season.

Information: Walt Disney World® events

5. City park celebration in the oaks
(New orleans, la.)

Who needs evergreens when there are groves of oak trees and moss-covered cypresses? The historical oaks in City Park are swathed in hundreds of thousands of twinkling lights throughout 13 acres. Ride the train through a two-mile exhibit of lights, see an animated Cajun Night Before Christmas display, hop on the carousel, and sip a hot chocolate while strolling through the park. Celebration of the Oaks opens the day after Thanksgiving and continues through New Year’s Day.


6. louisiana’s holiday trail of lights
(various cities)

The cities of Shreveport-Bossier, Minden, Monroe-West Monroe, Natchitoches, and Alexandria-Pineville come together for the annual Holiday Trail of Lights that not only includes fantastic light displays, but a host of holiday activities as varied as your grandma’s cookie platter.

For example, in Natchitoches, the 87th Annual Christmas Festival ( on Dec. 6 and 7 includes two parades, arts and crafts, food vendors, music, and fireworks. The Festival of Lights has more than 300,000 lights throughout the historical district and in 100 displays along Cane River Lake. The lights go on Nov. 23 and continue through Jan. 6.


7. Christmas at beauvoir (biloxi, Miss.)

History takes the front seat in this annual celebration that happens at Mississippi’s Gulf Coast. Beauvoir, The Jefferson Davis Home and Presidential Library, hosts the event from Nov. 7–Jan. 5. The Festival of Trees, a fundraising event showcasing 100 decorated Christmas trees, kicks off the event on Nov. 7.

In addition, Davis’ home is decorated for the holidays, and period crafts and games–similar to what Davis’ family might have enjoyed in 1889–are offered. These activities, plus carriage, wagon, and train rides are framed by 150 live oaks lit with twinkling, white lights.


8. an old time christmas, silver dollar city
(branson, Mo.)

Wholesome holiday fun that also celebrates the religious significance of Christmas is found in this popular Midwest theme park. There’s plenty of sparkle (5 million lights), the “wow factor” (five-story Special Effects Christmas Tree and the Gifts of Christmas Holiday Light Parade), and plenty of music featured in seven live shows. There’s also a living nativity scene and loads of traditional Christmas carols.

If weather permits, guests can enjoy a selection of rides in the park. Holiday fare is served, from gingerbread cookies to smoked prime rib. More than two dozen shops are open for browsing and gift selections; don’t miss the holiday décor at Jingle Bell Junction.

And remember, AAA members can save on tickets to Silver Dollar City, too ( Visit your full-service office for details.


9. Celebrate christmas at biltmore
(asheville, N.C.)

Try to imagine what America’s largest home might look like for the holidays, and then double it. Biltmore, the estate of George W. Vanderbilt, celebrates the holidays as you might expect–in a big way.

From Nov. 2 to Jan. 12, see dozens of huge trees, hundreds of wreaths, miles of garland, and a stunning botanical display in the conservatory. At night, twinkling lights and candles give this historical home a special glow. Holiday stories, music, wine seminars, and more add to the festivities.

Stay at the super-chic (and expensive) Inn on Biltmore Estate, or check out Asheville hotel packages that combine reasonable rates with admission to the estate.


ford fiesta de las luminarias, the river walk
(san Antonio, texas)

A different type of light display happens along the city’s River Walk on weekends Dec. 6–22. To symbolize lighting the way to the inn for Mary and Joseph, more than 6,000 luminarias (paper lanterns) glow next to the San Antonio River.

Some 200 trees and stone bridges along The River Walk are decked out in colorful lights, too, and the popular river barges take carolers down the river.


See more light display photos in a slideshow. Click here to go there now. Happy holidays!

Deborah Reinhardt is managing editor of AAA Midwest Traveler.

Nov/Dec 2013 Issue


To visit these cities and their holiday lights, first stop by your nearest AAA service office for maps, reservations, TripTiks® and TourBook® guides.

Order free information about Arkansas, Louisiana, and Mississippi through the Free Travel Information form found online..

See more light display photos in a slideshow. Click here to go there now. Happy holidays!


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