Holiday light displays spare no effort

by Amy Kingsley

The holidays are a hard time to be a procrastinator. We envy the responsible people who complete their shopping weeks before the big day and have plenty of time to enjoy seasonal recreation like perfecting their eggnog recipes, caroling and gawking at light displays. Those of us who spent the weekend before Christmas battling the shopping-mall throngs, on the other hand, have to defer some of those activities until the post-Christmas, pre-New Year’s doldrums.

Thus I find myself two days after Christmas parked behind a church bus near the entrance to Tanglewood Park in Clemmons. By the looks of it, I’m hardly the only one who’s waited until the last week to take in the 14th installment of the Festival of Lights, one of the largest lights displays in the Southeast.

Publicity materials for the Festival of Lights claim the event involves 1 million bulbs strung out over Tanglewood’s beautifully manicured length. Each year hundreds of visitors drive through the elaborate affair (the miles-long trail is not designed for a leisurely stroll). Information on the number of kilowatt-hours needed to power the lights is, curiously, a bit harder to find.

As with most events of this type, traffic crawls, especially leading up to the entrance where moneychangers collect the per-car fees. A sign posted next to the road instructs drivers to dial in Christmas music on an FM station. To my surprise, I find the music soothing, which is a sure indication that I’ve gotten over the trauma of a brief pre-Christmas stint in retail nearly a decade ago.

Arches adorned with multicolored lights mark the beginning of the trail. To my right, the display includes an old-timey mill and a leaping reindeer. In the tall trees overhead, snowflakes and orbs blink blue and white.

That, of course, is just the beginning. The trail as a whole combines sections of incandescent Christmas atmosphere with glowing scenes that nod to either the season or the setting. Near the horse trail a figure dressed in lights leads an equine in a circle.

No stretch of the trail has gone undecorated, but the designers concentrate their efforts in a few key places. Where the road turns hard right, drivers encounter tennis-playing elves, a peacock, a shimmering fountain and overhead lights strung several layers deep.

In fact, no aspect of Tanglewood goes uncelebrated in the Festival of Lights. Even the decidedly unseasonal squirrel gets his due – one light-constructed critter scurries over tree branches.

The nicest interlude occurs over a small lake. A crescent moon hangs from the treetops, a mermaid waves and all the lights reflect in the water’s calm surface.

The festival is enjoyable, enough so that I’m willing to be charitable when, upon exiting 50 minutes later, I’m greeted by a marketing message from corporate sponsor Chick-fil-a.

My next stop is back in Greensboro, where residents in a neighborhood near downtown have constructed their own very different winter wonderland. Unlike the Festival of Lights, the display on Ridgeway Street is best experienced on foot.

The street spans only a few blocks, but residents of almost every house hang homemade light spheres in the trees. The charmingly homemade decorations come in all colors and color combinations and float asymmetrically overhead. The dozens of light balls render the denuded trees festive, and they blaze against the dark sky.

Procrastinators like me have until New Year’s Day to experience the Festival of Lights. I don’t know how long the Ridgeway lights hang, but curious onlookers might have a few more days to check them out.

If you miss them this time, there’s always next year, when I’m sure that resolution to stop procrastinating will finally stick.

To comment on this story, e-mail Amy Kingsley at