When the Lights Go Up in Suburbia

When I was younger I enjoyed an annual trip to Walnut Creek amphitheater to check out the Celebration of Lights. In the years since that stopped being a thing1, though, I never really replaced it with any similar such luminary tradition. My wife loves lights, though, and I started to really feel the presence of that void so we made it a point this year to find light displays around the area to enjoy together and with our young daughter.

Thankfully, a few years ago Budweiser Miller LIte helped ignite a DIYer revolution with their commercial featuring a Mason, Ohio home with a light display synced to Trans-Siberian Orchestra’s “Wizard of Winter”. Coupled with the viral, word of mouth power of the Internet, it is incredibly easy to find similarly captivating DIYer displays around town. This area also has several farm-inspired venues that feature fun activities for the whole family along with expansive light displays.

I’ll keep a running list here of the places we visit, along with a few notes/comments about each display. WRAL has a great page with a map highlighting area neighborhood displays. Gas is way down at the pump, so there’s never been a better time to hop in the car and go light display hunting. Just plan out your route so you can burn that gas as efficiently as possible!

Happyland Christmas Lights, Apex: The display is impressive, with a unique band of characters. The subtle placement of some of the characters also makes for a fun time of discovery and surprise. The music broadcast didn’t seem to be working when we drove by, so that put a slight damper on things, but the display itself is well worth visiting.

Abbey Lane, Raleigh: Abby Lane, just down Morgan’s Way was our second stop on the first night of our self-paced Christmas Lights tour. The music was rocking and the lights were bright, in your face, and like the other displays we’ve seen, quite impressive. This is the first stop where we noticed the projection of Santa in the window – if you have kids old enough to get some excitement out of seeing Santa in the window, you might want to try to spot the projection and steer their eyes toward it. Expect to get “trapped” in a line of cars, but just relax and enjoy the show and it’ll be all good. The primary music and lights experience is available on FM 90.3, but there’s also a secondary/side show of the Peanuts’ Merry Christmas, Charlie Brown playing on a secondary station (look for the sign toward the front-left side of the property if you’re looking at the house). This was our favorite display until last night when we checked out …

Lowe Family Christmas Lights, Cary: We loved this house because, of the houses we’ve checked out so far, it was the only one that was seemingly not afraid of empty space. The display has plenty of lights, but the timed animations have a greater impact because the entire display allows for brief moments of complete darkness, a characteristic that was hard to find among the other always-on displays that we’ve seen so far. The time of night (and possibly relative obscurity) helped as well. When we pulled up there were only 3 cars around us and each car was able to position itself for optimal viewing without interfering with neighborhood traffic. There were other houses without light displays with more cars in front, possibly a couple of neighborhood house parties proving more popular than the light display on this night. Great music, almost perfect light display animations, and great viewing angles made this our favorite so far!

Hill Ridge Farms ‘Festival of Lights’, Youngsville: We only recently discovered Hill Ridge Farms, but they’ve been offering up seasonal, farm-inspired amusements for many years now. Admission is $10 per person (4 and under are free), which includes a hayride and access to the farm park’s many kid-friendly amusements like a maze, tube slide, and more. There are fire pits placed throughout the property for warming up or making s’mores (supplies available for purchase). I wasn’t particularly interested in the “included hayride” until I learned that’s the primary (and only) way to take in their light display – and it was actually a lot of fun! A nice highlight is a patriotic “we support our troops” stop toward the end of the Festival of Lights hayride tour, with ‘God Bless America’ playing in the background. There’s an optional train ride for $3 per ticket – the train ride was nice, great for kids, but you don’t see much on the ride. My wife remarked that it’s almost more fun to watch the train ride around the track than it is actually riding it.

  1. While researching information for this post, I learned that some of the lights from the defunct Walnut Creek display live on at Meadow Lights in Benson, NC.