Recalling holiday illuminations which I saw as a young child is a favorite place for me to wander in my mind. Who didn’t love being piled into a station wagon near Christmas Eve to go admire the holiday illuminations? In the countdown to Christmas, the waiting seemed intolerable. And our family tradition was no presents could be opened until Christmas Day except one gift after Midnight Mass.
Looking back, I can’t imagine how hard it was for my mom and dad to keep us distracted. I know there were traditions that helped shape the season, such as lighting the candle each night on the Advent Wreath. We also delayed buying the Christmas Tree until closer to the December 25 so decorating the tree was thrilling. I loved to toss the tinsel on the tree branches. I probably wore as much tinsel as the tree!
Baking sand tarts also fascinated me since my mom let me learn how to bake as a young child. She would set me up on a telephone book, put a rolling pin in my hands, and then let me roll the dough. Over the years, our family had accumulated dozens of cookie cutters. I can remember agonizing over each cutter to choose. My favorites were the Angel and the Gingerbread Man. Sprinkling the colored sugars or placing the nuts on the sand tart was a huge thrill.
But one of the most fantastic traditions was driving out to see the outdoor lights in neighborhoods in Washington DC. I grew up in Silver Spring, Maryland so my folks drive us over the District line to see the spectacular mansions decorated with Christmas lights on Foxhall Drive near Georgetown. Nearly five decades later, I can still picture myself, nose smooshed against the window pane, staring at the illuminated Santa Claus and his reindeer prancing on a lawn.
“Tis the season to sparkle.”
While I don’t have any physical photos, the memories will always linger in my mind. So I decided to look back on five places that loom large in my mind for their holiday illuminations.
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I have only seen the holiday illuminations in London one time in my entire life. I had just returned from a week of hiking on the Amalfi Coast. I decided to stay overnight in London so I could visit with my niece Karen and her partner Rob. They took me out to see how London decorates its buildings and bridges at Christmas time. I will never forget my awe looking over the river and seeing the bridges glitter like jewels.
Karen and Rob are back visiting his relatives in London in December 2021. So I asked them to take photographs of Christmas Illuminations in London. Here are some of my favorites below:
The National Christmas Tree symbolizes the celebration of the holidays in the nation’s capital. On Monday, I went on a nighttime holiday walking tour of Washington DC.
Our tour started at the Daughters of the American Revolution (DAR) building. I didn’t realize that movie studios rent out the DAR facade for major TV shows and movies, such as West Wing.
We headed toward the National Christmas Tree which is located on the Ellipse. Again, I didn’t understand how this tree is symbolic for the state of the nation. After the assassination of JKF in 1963, the nation went into mourning for one month. On December 23, President Lyndon Johnson “lit” the National Christmas Tree to symbolize that the nation had prepared itself for healing.
“Today we come to the end of a season of great national sorrow, and to the beginning of the season of great, eternal joy. We mourn our great President, John F. Kennedy, but he would have us go on.”President Lyndon Johnson
And during the Iranian controversy in the late 1970s, President Jimmy Carter chose not to light the trees while we the hostages were detained. His daughter Amy lit 50 trees, one for each American hostage.
“We will turn on the rest of the lights when the hostages come home.”President Jimmy Carter
In 2021, the National Christmas Tree burns bright. No longer adorned with a ugly net of Christmas lights, the tree is decorated with hundreds of individual white lights. Tourists and residents flock to congegrate in the shadow of the tree while they navigate the park. All 50 states plus the territories are represented with a small tree ringing the big tree.
There is also a navity scene set up nearby. I loved watching the little children standing nearby. One little girl talked excitedly about seeing Baby Jesus.
“They told her how a glorious, light, streaming from a heavenly throng, Around them shone, suspending night.”Samuel Taylor Coleridge
I am also enamored with the Christmas Tree at the Canadian Embassy, the Capitol Christmas Tree and the new CityCenter Christmas Tree (located at New York Avenue NW).
In CityCenter, reindeer reign at giant illuminations that protect the holiday gifts. The CityCenter Holiday Tree is the largest in the city. Washington DC’s Christmas activities will excite all visitors as well as residents.
Due to the pandemic, there has been no Georgetown GLOW for the last two years. Hopefully, this holiday illumination will return in 2022. I have to say that this is one of my favorite events in our nation’s capital.
A holiday light show has always been a magnet for me. So on a blustery cold December evening, wearing only a thin pea coat with no hat or gloves, I began my night holiday safari to discover the 2019 edition of Georgetown GLOW DC. There were 11 light art installations available to view over 31 nights.
The Georgetown Business Improvement District market GLOW it as the region’s only free curated exhibition of outdoor public light art.
You could start at any GLOW illumination. They were scattered across historic Georgetown, a must-see neighborhood on any visit to Washington D.C. BTW, the city is named after an English king (George III)—and not George Washington.
But I think my favorite GLOW illumination was a word sign. Called every day (#12), it was an illuminated poem. It was written in script with no capital letters. It read: “Every day we are slowly, approaching, a solstice.”
The artist used different sections of the church grounds to lay out each of the five different phrases. In this way, the poem resembled illuminated stanzas that swirled across the lawn. I could almost imagine a poet carefully writing each word with a vintage fountain pen.
St. Augustine, Florida
Nights of Lights turns St. Augustine, Florida—the “Ancient City”—into a sparkling diamond on the sea during the Christmas holidays. Celebrated for 28 years, this holiday tradition ranks among the world’s Top 10 holiday light displays by National Geographic.
Starting on Nov. 20 and running through January 31, 2022, Nights of Lights turns up the voltage from the ground to the rooftops. According to the city’s travel bureau, Augustine’s Nights of Lights features millions of tiny white lights that create a magical atmosphere in the Nation’s Oldest City, and it’s free of charge.
“The Nights of Lights Celebration was created by the City of St. Augustine in 1999 to help add more reasons to visit the Nation’s oldest city during early December and into January, a time that was historically off-season. Since its inception, the celebration has been recognized as one of the most beautiful holiday displays in the world, and is one of the most popular holiday events in the U.S.”, says Richard Goldman, CEO of St. Augustine, Ponte Vedra & The Beaches VCB.
“This brilliant display of lights sets the stage for a number of other holiday events and happenings that take place throughout January.”Richard Goldman, CEO of the St. Augustine, Ponte Vedra & The Beaches VCB
St. Augustine operators offer nighttime tours to see the citywide light displays via buses, boats, yachts, and even golf carts. Another fun option is to climb the 200+ steps to the top of the St. Augustine Lighthouse. Built in 1874, the lighthouse is 165 feet tall. Down below St. Augustine’s historic neighborhoods, such as St George Street, shimmer.
Originally christened the “Christkindelsmärik” (market of the Infant Jesus), it is France’s oldest Christmas Market. It comprises 12 different themed markets and is held outdoors each year from late November until December 31.
Established in 1570, Christkindelsmärik attracts over 2 million visitors each year. Strasbourg has twice been voted Europe’s best Christmas Market among 15 different towns—despite serious competition from Aachen, Germany, and Vienna, Austria.
Nights are the magical time when Santa’s elves come out to play. At Place Gutenberg (the center of medieval Strasbourg), I walked under the red and green illuminated sign that proclaimed Strasbourg as Capitale de Noel. I marveled at the illuminated angels hanging in the air and blowing celestial horns which light my path. The long trail of fairy lights made me think that magic was at work here.
Malaga Christmas lights shine bright everywhere. Feliz Navidad is on the lips of every resident. In Malaga, a Mediterranean Christmas celebration is as likely to include a boot stuffed with a toy as stockings jammed full of gifts.
Malaga is an ancient port city founded in the 8th century by the Phoenicians transformed by Malaga Christmas lights. The city celebrates the blessed holiday by filling the city with lights and illuminated decorations. Christmas Eve is the big celebration day for families who gather for an elaborate meal.
In Malaga, the Christmas lights change over the kiosks in the Christmas market as well as the large avenues. The city also sponsors a Christmas market by the port. These open air markets feature artisans who sell homemade jewelry, clothes, pottery and Christmas items.
I have not visited Perth during the Christmas holidays. But I have a dear friend who emailed these lovely photos after she read my article about St. Augustine’s Nights of Lights. I couldn’t resist sharing these spectacular Aussie light displays.
“The City of Perth’s annual Christmas Lights Trail covers 4km of Perth city including Cathedral Square.”
These are some photos that Jan took the other night after a dinner in the city. One is of St. George’s Cathedral. Jan said, “They have the most beautiful light projections on the facade. Opposite is our City Council offices-a very contemporary building which has its own light show with lots of lit-up kangaroos on the lawns at the front.”
Thanks Jan! If any other readers want to share photos of their cities’ holiday illuminations, please email to email@example.com.