Recreation & Destinations

Holiday Displays Light Up the Night

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Glowing, colorful lights are brightening up the cold, night skies this holiday season. Check out two stunning light displays that’ll brighten your holiday season and fill your heart with wonder.

Cold tree branches shine brightly in stunning colors during Illumination: Tree Lights at The Morton Arboretum, happening from mid-November through Jan. 1 at The Morton Arboretum, in Lisle.

There’s something special about holiday light displays this time of year. The bright, beautiful glow illuminates the cold, dark skies, puts us in a better mood and fills our hearts with holiday joy.

As we welcome another holiday season with open arms, here are two spectacular light displays in our area that’ll get you and your family into the Christmas spirit.

Illumination: Tree Lights at The Morton Arboretum

The trees at The Morton Arboretum, in Lisle, come to life this time of year.

That’s because for the sixth year now, Illumination: Tree Lights at The Morton Arboretum will set aglow these hibernating giants. Visitors to this increasingly popular event are sure to see the trees in a new light – quite literally.

“This is a beautiful winter walk surrounded by trees with amazing colors and interactive lighting effects,” says Sue Wagner, vice president of education and information. “People can expect to encounter vibrant and theatrical projections and colors that highlight the beauty of trees in the winter. The emphasis of the event is on the trees because they’re the stars of the show.”

Through Jan. 1, roughly 50 acres of the Arboretum are transformed so the trees’ bare, cold branches can shine brightly in a rainbow of colors.

Take a walk along the one-mile walking path and you’ll encounter numerous vignettes. In one area, try singing to the trees and watch them change colors. In another, see lights “dance” in time with the music. If you’re feeling adventurous, you can even hug one of three hickory trees. They’ll respond with bright, pulsating lights, almost as though they’re saying hello.

Then, there’s the unmistakable Crystal Promenade, where two dozen chandeliers light up the forest.

“People can experience Illumination and enjoy the sights and sounds, or they can interact with the scenery,” Wagner says. “It’s their choice, but there’s something for everyone.”

One new display this year is Crown of Light, created by Smithsonian-featured arts collective Hyperspace Bypass Construction Zone or HYBYCOZO, the brainchild of environmental scientist Yelena Filipchuk and industrial designer Serge Beaulieu.

“These steel, geometric sculptures are between 9 and 12 feet tall, and they feature laser-cut patterns of leaf designs,” Wagner says. “They’re three-dimensional pieces, they’re lit from within and they project the silhouette of these laser-cut patterns on the ground and the surrounding area. It’s pretty amazing.”

More than 160,000 people visited the lights last year, most of them arriving during the weekend. This year, Wagner is encouraging a visit during the week, and there are plenty of fun, new weekday activities to make the trek memorable. On Tuesdays, kids can visit with Santa; on Wednesdays there’s live music, and on Thursday the adults can enjoy beer, wine and spirit tastings.

“We want to give people an opportunity to find their place in Illumination,” Wagner says. “It’s busy on the weekends, but we want to give families and those hanging out socially a chance to find something cool on a particular day.”

As you take in the sights, music plays along the path. If you get cold, you can hang out by a fire pit. S’mores kits are available at concession tents along the trail.

“On average, it takes visitors about an hour to walk the trail,” Wagner says. “Take your time. We want visitors to leave Illumination with a greater appreciation for trees in the wintertime. It’s different from other holiday light experiences because it’s more about having fun with friends and family amongst the trees.”

The event is open from 4:30 p.m. to 9:30 p.m., with the final entry at 8:30 p.m. Illumination is closed on Mondays except for Dec. 31. It’s also closed on Thanksgiving, Christmas Eve and Christmas Day.

Tickets are available at the Arboretum’s Visitor Services desk, online at MortonArb.org, or by calling (630) 725-2066.

Aurora Festival of Lights

Now in its 12th year, the Aurora Festival of Lights will once again light up the night sky in Aurora’s Phillips Park. The stunning light display will illuminate a 1.1-mile stretch of the park, located at 1000 Ray Moses Dr.

The drive-through festival, which is free of charge, features more than 400 dazzling, festive holiday displays including Santa’s Toy Factory, Old Man Winter, holiday trains and large snowflakes. The displays shine brightly thanks to thousands of LED lights that are attached to wire frames and trees. Each year, volunteers update the displays and add new ones to keep the event new and exciting.

Last year, more than 30,000 carloads of people armed with smiling faces and cameras visited the must-see festival during the four-week event.

“Everything is colorful and lit up for the holiday season,” says James Cardis, marketing director of the Aurora Area Convention and Visitors Bureau. “This is one of the largest free outdoor holiday light displays in northern Illinois. It’s really cool.”

This year, the event runs from Nov. 23 through Dec. 26 and is open Sunday to Thursday from 5 to 9 p.m. and Friday and Saturday from 5 to 10 p.m.

Drivers are encouraged to share a goodwill donation. The festival, put on by the Aurora Rotary Club and the City of Aurora, has given proceeds to local organizations such as school districts, Aurora Township Youth Services and domestic violence shelters.

This year, the Festival of Lights is introducing a new Old Man Winter display, this one with multi-colored lights that’ll “blow” snowflakes into the park. Also new this year is an animated entrance to the drive-through tunnel of lights.

Interestingly enough, Aurora’s nickname is the “City of Lights,” since it was one of the first communities to implement an electric street lighting system. The city continues to live up to that title each winter.

“This event is really just another fun and exciting way to celebrate Christmas,” Cardis says. “It’s in a beautiful park, and it’s a great way to bring people into Aurora so they can experience all that we have to offer through the holiday season.”

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