AUTUMN leaves might still be clinging to some trees, but don't let that fool you. The frenzy of the winter holidays is quickly approaching. And that means shopping and wrapping and cooking and bak ing and decorating and ...
Throughout this hectic time, give yourself and your family a break now and then and take in some of the joyous scenes of the season - such as the many holiday light displays in the area.
Millions of lights. Twinkling red lights, green lights, white lights, blue lights. All wired into illuminated holiday scenes to create dazzling walk- or drive-through displays in parks and gardens and even along beaches.
As you drive or walk under arches of light, delighting in scenes of tumbling bears and midshipmen tossing their hats in the air, you might wonder about how much work went into creating these winter wonderlands.
Well, consider this little tidbit: It took more than 6,000 man-hours and 30 days to install the Miracle of Lights in Centreville, Va. And when all the lights are on, they use more than 475,000 watts. The electric bill? A mere $10,000 for the display's seven-week run.
Here's a sampling of holiday light shows offered this season in Maryland and just across the border into Pennsylvania and Virginia:
Symphony of Lights
Location: Symphony Woods, Columbia. Use Merriweather Post Pavilion entrance on Broken Land Parkway.
Dates: Monday-Jan 6.
Hours: 6 p.m.-10 p.m. Sundays-Thursdays, 6 p.m.-11 p.m. Fridays-Saturdays and holidays through Dec. 13; 6 p.m.-11 p.m. Dec. 14-Jan. 6.
Tour specifics: 20- to 30-minute, 1.4-mile drive-through display.
What you'll see: More than 70 larger-than-life, animated and stationary holiday light creations set against a natural wooded backdrop.
Admission: $12 per car, van or RV up to 11 passengers; $25 commercial vans and minibuses seating 12-24 people; $75 buses exceeding 24 passengers.
Benefits: Howard County General Hospital.
Lights on the Bay
Location: Sandy Point State Park, Route 50, Exit 32, near Annapolis.
Dates: Tomorrow-Dec. 31.
Hours: 5 p.m.-10 p.m. daily.
Tour specifics: 20- to 30-minute, 2.5-mile drive-through display.
What you'll see: More than 60 illuminated displays, including leaping deer and midshipmen tossing their hats into the air.
Admission: $12 per passenger vehicle; $50 bus.
Benefits: Auxiliary of Anne Arundel Medical Center's Acute Care Pavilion.
Winter Lights Festival
Location: Seneca Creek State Park, Clopper Road (Route 117), Gaithersburg.
Dates: Nov. 23-24, Dec. 1-31.
Hours: 6 p.m.-10 p.m. Nov. 23-24; 6 p.m.-9:30 p.m. Sundays-Thursdays, 6 p.m.-10 p.m. Fridays-Saturdays Dec. 1-31.
Tour specifics: 3.5-mile drive-through show.
What you'll see: More than 250 illuminated displays, among them 55 animated creations. You'll encounter grazing deer, polar bears, arches of light, marching toy soldiers and more. Theme areas include "Winter Woods," where nature comes alive; "Teddy Bear Land," where dozens of bears get into mischief; a "Victorian Village," complete with a shimmering ice-skating pond, and "Reindeer Flight School," where potential pilots of the deer persuasion are training for the biggest flight of their lives.
Admission: $10 per car; $25 per 15-passenger van; $50 buses.
Benefits: Five local charities.
Winterfest of Lights
Location: Ocean City. Winterfest Express Train, Northside Park, 127th Street; Tunnel of Lights, Inlet Parking Lot; Avenue of Trees, Baltimore Avenue, from 15th to 32nd streets.
Dates: Today-Jan. 2.
Hours: Ceremonial tree lighting and opening celebration 5:30 p.m. today at Northside Park; Winterfest Express Train, 5:30 p.m.-9:30 p.m. Sundays-Thursdays, 5:30 p.m.-10:30 p.m. Fridays-Saturdays. Tunnel of Lights and Avenue of Trees open all night.
Tour specifics: Winterfest Express Train, one-mile rail ride along light displays; Tunnel of Lights and Avenue of Trees, drive-through displays.
What you'll see: Train rides take you along a path filled with dazzling illuminated imagery. You'll see animated magic genies, toy soldiers, the 12 days of Christmas and other dancing lights. Drive through the Tunnel of Lights to a beach filled with light displays boasting a nautical theme. Next stop: the Avenue of Trees, boasting festive arbors along the median for a 17-block stretch.
Admission: $3 for train rides, under 12 free; other events free.
Call: 410-289-2800 or 800-OC-OCEAN.
Garden of Lights
Location: Brookside Gardens, 1800 Glenallan Ave., Wheaton.
Dates: Nov. 23-25, 28-30; Dec. 1-2, 6-9, 13-16, 18-23, 26-30; Jan. 3-6.
Hours: 5:30 p.m.-9 p.m. (last car admitted 8:30 p.m.).
Tour specifics: 1/2 -mile walk-through display.
What you'll see: A garden of twinkling flower-lights where art forms of plants, animals and fountains are interpreted in a secular fantasy. Displays include walk-through kaleidoscope caterpillar, clouds and rain, forest animals, colorful roses, dripping wisteria and a giant animated moon vine that grows 25 feet and bursts into bloom.
Admission: $10 cars; buses $120 (register in advance).
Location: Antietam National Battlefield, Route 34, Sharpsburg.
Date: Dec. 1 (inclement-weather date: Dec. 8).
Time: 6 p.m.
Tour specifics: One-hour, five-mile drive past illuminated memorials.
What you'll see: Battlefield will be aglow with more than 23,000 luminarias (candles in paper bags). Each honors a killed, wounded or lost-in-action Civil War soldier.
Winter Festival of Lights
Location: Watkins Regional Park, 301 Watkins Park Drive, Upper Marlboro.
Dates: Nov. 23-Jan. 6
Hours: 5 p.m.-9:30 p.m.
Tour specifics: 30- to 40-minute, 2.5-mile drive.
What you'll see: More than 500,000 colored lights and animated displays, including a lighted train station, giant tree, Santa and snowmen.
Admission: $10 per car; $25 per minibus or limousine; $40 bus. Free on Mondays with a donation of nonperishable food.
Location: Salisbury City Park, East Main Street, Salisbury.
Dates: Monday-Jan. 6
Hours: Dusk-10 p.m. Opening ceremonies 5:30 p.m.-9 p.m. Monday.
Tour specifics: About a 1/3 -mile drive- or walk-through display.
What you'll see: 26 illuminated stationary and animated displays, including toy soldiers, boats, a lighthouse and tumbling bears. Opening-day ceremonies feature food, caroling, hayrides and pony rides.
Festival of Lights
Location: Washington Temple of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (the Mormon Temple), Visitors Center, 9900 Stoneybrook Drive, Kensington.
Dates: Nov. 28-Jan. 1.
Hours: 5:30 p.m.-10 p.m.
Tour specifics: Walk-through outdoor light display. Also, creche exhibit, tree displays and concerts.
What you'll see: More than 300,000 colored lights decorate the grounds and landscaping around the Visitors Center. Red, green and white lights represent Christmas; blue symbolize Hanukkah. Indoors, view miniature Nativity scenes from around the world and trees trimmed with international decorations. Nightly concerts are presented by regional music groups.
Location: Rocky Gap State Park, Interstate 68, Exit 50, near Cumberland.
Dates: Monday-Jan. 6.
Hours: 5 p.m.-9 p.m. Mondays-Thursdays, 5 p.m.-11 p.m. Fridays-Saturdays, holidays and Christmas week.
Tour specifics: 1/2 -mile drive- or walk-through display.
What you'll see: 30 life-size holiday creations set in a background of illuminated trees.
Admission: $7 per vehicle.
Benefits: Western Potomac Chapter of American Red Cross.
Lights at Longwood Gardens
Location: Longwood Gardens, U.S. 1, Kennett Square, Pa.
Dates: Nov. 22-Jan. 6.
Hours: 9 a.m.-9 p.m. (light displays start at dusk).
Tour specifics: Walk-through displays of lights throughout the gardens. Also, lighted-fountain show.
What you'll see: 400,000 lights strung on nearly 40 miles of wire in the trees. Images include starry snowflakes up to 6 feet wide and icicles up to 5 feet long. Other light displays include lilac blossoms, a rose arbor blooming with white foil roses, and a sweep of faux hyacinths under birch trees. Open Air Theatre fountains dance to holiday music each half-hour, beginning at 11 a.m.
Admission: $12 ($8 Tuesdays), $6 ages 16-20, $2 ages 6-15, free under 6.
Call: 610-388-1000 or 800-737-5500.
A Festival of Lights
Location: Rocky Ridge County Park, off Deininger Road, York, Pa.
Dates: Nov. 23-Dec. 30 (closed Dec. 24-25).
Hours: 6 p.m.-9 p.m. Mondays-Fridays, 5 p.m.-9 p.m. Saturdays-Sundays.
Tour specifics: 1/2 -mile walking tour on trail of lights.
What you'll see: Stationary and animated scenes created with more than 200,000 twinkling lights. Also, G-gauge train display, Santa, crafts, entertainment and food.
Admission: $5, $4 seniors, $3 ages 4-12, free under 4.
Location: Hersheypark, 100 Hersheypark Drive, Hershey, Pa.
Dates: Tomorrow-Sunday, Nov. 21-25, 28-30, Dec. 1-2, 5-9, 12-24, 26-31, Jan. 1.
Hours: Generally opens 5 p.m. weekdays, noon Saturdays-Sundays. Closes 9 p.m. or 10 p.m. most days. Some 5 p.m. closings. (Call ahead.)
Tour specifics: Walk-through tour of decorated amusement park.
What you'll see: More than 1 million twinkling lights, nine live reindeer, Santa, illuminated Hershey's product characters. You can also enjoy live entertainment, amusement rides, lots of hot cocoa and plenty of chocolate.
Admission: Free, pay as you go for rides; $6 parking.
Miracle of Lights
Location: Bull Run Regional Park, Bull Run Post Office Road, Centreville, Va.
Dates: Tomorrow-Jan. 5 (closed New Year's Eve).
Hours: 5:30 p.m.-10:30 p.m.
Tour specifics: 25- to 30-minute, two-mile drive-through light show.
What you'll see: More than 250 stationary and animated displays. Five theme areas, including "Noah's Ark," "Santa's Hideaway" and "Angel's Playground."
Admission: $12 per vehicle up to 14 passengers; $25 commercial vehicle, 15-34 passengers; $50 bus.
Benefits: Medical Care for Children Partnership.