One of the best parts of the winter holiday season is the effort people make to decorate their homes and businesses in dazzling light displays.
During the holidays some families have a tradition of driving around their neighborhood looking at all the houses decorated for the season. Of course, in a lot of places, this means a lot of driving and a hit-or-miss success rate. Sure people still get creative with Christmas lights, like decorating their cars with them. However, some folks want to see a bunch of gorgeous holiday light displays without having to drive all over the tri-state area. If this is the case, chances are you should consider Christmas light displays that you need a car to see.
In most places during the winter, the temperature is much colder than it is during other times of the year. So, this means that the winter holidays are not exactly the best season for planning outdoor excursions. But, what about a miniature road trip? These displays, often on fairgrounds or other places with a lot of space, are a great choice. You can drive around looking at dozens, sometimes hundreds, of light displays. Some places it’s the whole town getting in on it and in others it’s a place where you have to pay admission. Either way, it’s a great way to see beautiful holiday displays and keep comfortable in the family car.
Holiday Light Displays to Drive Through Tonight
Whether it's your tradition to drive around looking at Christmas lights already, or you'd like to start this tradition, there are some great options. These holiday light displays are perfect for a fun family activity.
1. Las Vegas Motor Speedway: Las Vegas, Nevada
For the past 20 years, the Las Vegas Motor Speedway is taken over by one of the largest Christmas light displays in the country. Guests pay $20 per carload, and then drive around the speedway looking at large, animated light displays. It gets cold out there, but people will often bundle up and ride through the display in the bed of a truck. There are Boy Scouts on hand selling concessions, including hot cocoa. The displays are produced by Winterland, Inc. from Marion, Indiana. They build Christmas light displays specifically for parks like this and people with money to spend (and neighbors to impress or infuriate). It opens in November and runs through the first week of the New Year. The park is also open on Thanksgiving, Christmas Day, and New Year’s Day, so it can be literally a part of your holiday tradition.
2. Overly’s Country Christmas: Greensburg, Pennsylvania
A little more than half a century ago, this land about an hour east of Pittsburgh belonged to a farmer named Harry Overly. In 1956, he decorated his home with a couple strings of lights. His children went crazy for them, and so did Harry, a little. The displays grew more and more extensive, soon covering much of his property. He was one of the first people in the country to add an animated element to his Christmas light displays.
For a long time he would do all of this, refusing to accept money from the people who drove to see them. Legend has it that one woman forced him to take the money, or that she made an offer he couldn’t refuse, telling him to donate it to his favorite charity. So, the next year, the Overly Country Christmas light display was born, a non-profit organization whose proceeds fund children’s charities.
In the early 1990s, the displays moved from the Overly property to larger grounds. Today it’s at the Westmoreland Fairgrounds featuring dozens of displays and a little town square where you can get out of the car and get hot chestnuts, cocoa, and any number of Christmas treats.
3. Nights of Lights: St. Augustine, Florida
Starting in November and running through January, the Nights of Lights celebration in St. Augustine, Florida is free for all. Effectively, to experience this event, you need only drive around the city of St. Augustine. The Nights of Lights are when local businesses and buildings all decorate for Christmas. Yet, this isn’t a wreath in the window and jingle bells on the door.
The entire town is covered in millions upon millions of Christmas lights. You and your family can drive around, if you’d like. However there are a number of tour services to consider. You can drive around on a wine-tasting tour, take the Old Town Trolley, or even the Big Red Christmas Train Night of Lights Tour, from the Ripley’s Believe-It-or-Not Museum. This is a celebration of Christmas light displays so big that you need an entire town to hold it all.
4. Oglebay Winter Festival of Lights: Wheeling, West Virginia
The Winter Festival of Lights at the Oglebay Resort in Wheeling, West Virginia is one of the most popular Christmas light displays in the nation. They boast millions of guests each season, some who’ve traveled across the country. Unlike some of these other places, Oglebay is a natural resort with museums, a zoo, and all the amenities you’d expect.
This festival is huge, taking up three hundred acres over what is a six mile drive. There are nearly 100 separate attractions with more than a million lights. What’s great about the Oglebay is that you can come for the light show, but stay overnight and get pampered in the spa or take a historic tour the next day. If you really want to turn your tour of Christmas lights displays to a holiday road trip, this is a good destination for it.
5. Portland Winter Wonderland: Portland, Oregon
For the past 23 years, from the 23rd of November until the day after Christmas, the Portland International Raceway is transformed into a holiday heaven. They boast that Winter Wonderland is one of the largest Christmas light displays in the country, and it’s definitely the largest west of the Mississippi River. This drive-through light show features over 250 set pieces, including fully animated “scenes.”
They also have special nights where cars aren’t welcome. On one night they invite motor cyclists to brave the cold and “bike the lights.” They also have a night for dogs on leashes, and one called “Night of Holiday Misfits.” Yet, whether you are walking or driving, this West Coast showcase is one the whole family can enjoy. All the proceeds from Winter Wonderland go to support the Sunshine Division, which has a broad mission of helping the poor and those in need. From helping victims after a fire or disaster to aiding people struggling with domestic violence or drug addiction.
These Christmas light displays are not just fun to look at, but have something to teach us about the meaning of the holiday season.
The winter holidays are a time when people are looking to spend their money, either on gifts of holiday experiences. Anyone could string up a bunch of lights and charge dummies to drive around a see them, cackling “Bah Humbug!” all the way to the bank. Yet, over and over again, these Christmas light displays are run by groups or individual volunteers who aren’t looking to profit.
No, most of these places do what they do to support one charity or another. They are able to make beautiful pieces of art, charge people to see them, and use that money to give back to those in need. What could better exemplify the spirit of the holidays. There is nothing wrong with making money or selling an amazing product or service. However, for just a few weeks out of the year, these groups put those thoughts aside in order to help those who need it most. And they do all of this while bring joy into people’s hearts and smiles onto kids’ faces. Not a bad deal.
What do you think? Share your thoughts, experiences, and own favorite Christmas light-looking spots in the comments below. Don’t forget to share the article on social media if you like it, so your friends can get in on the conversation.
Related Article: Three Great Road Trips to Take During the Holidays