Thanksgiving has barely arrived, and the Christmas holiday season is at its heels. Across the land, city workers are hustling -- decorating for thousands of expected visitors for whom the magic of the season is reflected in the glow of millions of lights. Predictably, the most extravagant displays, tallest trees and electrifying ceremonies are found in major cities. So grab your kids and check out these top picks:
• New York City, NY -- Start with Rockefeller Center's iconic tree, aglow with 45,000 bulbs majestically towering above the ice rink, bugling angels and wide-eyed children. (Lit November 28th, 7-9 p.m.) The 80-foot Norway spruce survived Hurricane Sandy in Mt. Olive, NJ, and was hastily cut and erected at the plaza on November 14th. Other Manhattan lighting events: South Street Seaport, Lincoln Center, Washington Square Park, Bryant Park and the Metropolitan Museum of Art. Catch the lighting of the world's largest Chanukah menorah -- 32-feet tall and 4,000 pounds -- in Central Park.
• Chicago, IL -- The Magnificent Mile corridor will feature a 64-foot Colorado spruce. The city throws the switch at Daley Plaza on November 20th on its 99th annual holiday festival. Bundle up for a horse-drawn carriage ride to Macy's to view their famous holiday-themed window scenes. The Navy Pier's "Winter Wonder Fest" and "Christmas Around the World" display at the Museum of Science & Industry are hugely popular family events.
• Washington, DC -- The nation's national christmas tree will grace the Ellipse for the 90th consecutive year, and marking the terminus of the "Christmas Path of Peace," a corridor of 56 smaller trees -- one for each state, five territories and the District of Columbia. Lit each evening from dusk to 10 p.m., each tree is decorated with unique ornaments created by artists and volunteers from that state, territory or the District of Columbia. Attendance at the December 6th lighting ceremony is determined by an annual lottery. The general public can view the ceremony by live webcast.
• Orlando, FL -- What started as one Arkansas family's home display has become one of the largest light displays in the country -- so immense, it had to "go Disney." Disney's Hollywood Studios is again hosting the Osborne Family Spectacle of Dancing Lights from November 9th to January 6th. Approximately every 10 minutes, the lights "dance" to holiday music, while "Florida snow" falls in the background, making this the perfect Christmas setting.
• St. Augustine, FL -- Dating back to the 16th century, America's oldest city glows in old world charm with its annual "Night of Lights" festival. Featured by National Geographic as one of their top places in the world for holiday lights, St. Augustine illuminates 144-square blocks, including historic buildings and the Bridge of Lions with three million, officially-decreed white lights. A unique travel destination, the city offers family-friendly attractions along with a sense of history and mystery.
Avoiding crowds but don't want to sacrifice wattage? Many neighborhoods have built well-deserved reputations for their extravagant décor. Visit one of these nationally-recognized, residential/neighborhood displays this season and your kids will think you're Santa.
• Brooklyn, NY -- Dyker Heights; One of the most famous lighting displays in the country is in a residential neighborhood in Brooklyn. Head out to see over-the-top neighborly competition in the spirit of holiday tradition. Best viewing? The blocks of 82nd to 86th St. and 12th to 13th Ave. Private and city bus tours include a cannoli stop.
• Portland, OR -- Peacock Lane; Since the 1920s, each house in this Portland neighborhood has gone "all out" for the holidays. Displays include gobs of lights, nativity scenes and Christmas trees.
• Clifton, OH -- Clifton Mill; More than 3.5 million lights cover the countryside for a display that's been featured in national magazines and other media as "The Legendary Lights of Clifton Mill." Drive through a lighted covered bridge and visit a Santa museum.
• Baltimore, MD -- "Miracle on 34th Street"; For more than six decades, homeowners on Baltimore's 34th street have wowed visitors with light displays, including trains on the roof and Christmas trees made from hub caps. There's even a ball drop on New Year's Eve in this area known as "Christmas Street."
• Mobile, AL -- Bellingrath Gardens and Home; "Magic Christmas in Lights," November 23rd to December 31st. Stroll among three million sparkling lights and 950 displays throughout the 65-acre garden estate. The Bellingrath Home is decorated in its holiday finery and poinsettias encompass the gardens. Nightly choral performances are held on the South Terrace of the Bellingrath Home.
Take time -- make time -- this holiday season to be a kid with your kids, basking in the snowy glow of holiday lights... don't forget the sunglasses!
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