Christmas lights are a BIG deal in Louisiana and Texas. It was part of our holiday routine to go drive around neighborhoods and look at the lights. And it was free! One year in the early 1990s, Al Copeland, founder of Popeye’s Chicken, donated his trillions of lights to the city of Baton Rouge. They decided to light up the state capitol – all 34 floors of it! The town of Natchitoches, Louisiana’s annual holiday lights were featured on the movie, “Steel Magnolias.”
When I first moved to Atlanta, I was surprised that more people didn’t put up Christmas lights. Even though both Lake Lanier and Callaway Gardens offered light shows, they each entailed planning a long drive and paying admission. However, about six years ago, the Atlanta Botanical Gardens began Garden Lights – Holiday Nights. After hearing positive reviews, I wanted to go but was resistant to paying the steep fees.
So I held off. But I had heard good things and always wanted to go. Finally we did this year – the night before Thanksgiving. It didn’t disappoint.
Walking on the garden path, bright stars hung high in the trees focusing our gaze upward. When the path crests to the Chihuly fountain, a plethora of lights awaits with the Atlanta skyline serving as the backdrop. At the far end, a large lighted Christmas tree beckons. Along the brick path, the smell of roasting marshmallows attracts our attention. A bar is set up offering hot chocolate and s’mores kits. At the two fire pits, parents are helping kids hold their rods with marshmallows over the flames.
Now at the lighted green Christmas tree, families pose for pictures, people don 3-D glasses (which come with the premium ticket at $10 more). It seemingly can’t get any better than this.
But it does.
Looking towards the rainforest building (what my daughters affectionately called “The Jungle” when they were little), are huge (people sized) old-fashioned Christmas lights gracing the wide open lawn. All of a sudden, Christmas music plays and the lights change colors to the beat of the music. Even though I can’t stand the song playing (Paul McCartney’s “Wonderful Christmastime”), the lights intrigue and draw me in. When Aaron Neville’s “Louisiana Christmas Day” blasts from the speakers, the lights really perk up and the crowd gets a swing in their step.
In the rainforest, everything is completely dark – except for the holiday lights placed along the paths. Without the sound of music, our ears awaken to the croaks of frogs and hum of crickets. Soon, white lights dangling from the ceiling usher us into the Fuqua Orchid Center where a large poinsettia tree greets visitors. Another hot spot for photo taking.
Inside the orchid exhibit lies a large topiary. Back outside, we take the Bug Path where lit up dragonflies and other bugs take us through the edible garden. Lit up rows of corn planted among the real corn take us to the Mistletoe Tree where couples kiss before continuing through the display. Looping back by the Chihuly fountain, we head towards the newer section of the garden – the tree canopy walk.
From the heights, we see trees lit in different lights passing the gold stairstep fountain. A group of carolers sing to us as we get closer to the bottom of the canopy walk. Purple lighted trees (my favorite) dot the landscape and upon closer examination, they have tiny floral shaped lights on the ends. Soon we get to the main water fountain where blue toned lights flow among the hair of the statue. Lastly, we walk through a red tunnel of lights and we’re back to the entrance.
The admission price is $26 on peak nights/$23 on non-peak nights for adults – which with teenage children means we spent around $100. Pretty steep if you ask me but I can honestly say it was worth it. Why? Because you’re out walking around among other people. Sure you have to dodge strollers and hear a few meltdowns by overtired kids, but you also glimpse smiles of wonder and feel part of a bigger connection to those around you. For more information see Atlanta Botanical Gardens.