CHEERY AND BRIGHT: HOLIDAY LIGHTS

Tour these de-light-ful displays

Image by Terry Walsh Photo/Fotolia

By Taylor Weeks

Don’t let yourself feel down with the gray skies, bitter gusts and early evenings of winter. Turn the gloom on its head and take advantage of the opportunity to snuggle your nose into your fluffiest scarf, cradle a Thermos of hot chocolate and venture out into the evening air: You will find the Twin Cities and surrounding metro area sparkling with twinkle lights and good cheer. There are many magical places to visit with family and friends; even kiddos can enjoy these holiday lights before bedtime with such an early sunset. Visit these eight locations for some awe-inspiring holiday spirit.

Rice Park is located in a quiet pocket bordered by the St. Paul Hotel, Ordway, Downtown Central Library and Landmark Center. Every tree in the park is wrapped in lights. Towering above the rest, however, is a tree as impressive as the tree at Rockefeller Center in New York, lit from the very bottom to the tippy top with thousands of glittering string lights and crowned with a brilliant star. Diagonal to the park is another gem: An artificially cooled skating rink resting in the shadow of the Landmark Center. For $4 (or free with a Wells Fargo banking card) you can rent a pair of skates and glide in the historic, brightly lit charm of downtown St. Paul.

The Union Depot is a “Hub for the Holidays.” It hosts a variety of fun-filled, festive events throughout the entire month of December. They have their annual Holiday Tree Lighting Ceremony on Dec. 1, which involves lighting up the sky with a fireworks display. The tree is almost 50 feet tall this year. Eric Gordon, a local American Idol contestant, will also be performing. Other days throughout the month, you can purchase a ticket to ride a 1944 steam locomotive—dubbed the North Pole Express—decorated with its own festive lights. You can even visit with Santa and his elves on your trip.

Just a quarter of a mile away from the Union Depot, you can find Mears Park nestled on the eastern side of downtown St. Paul in the Lowertown district. The Mears Park neighborhood group, Friends of Mears Park, lovingly decorates the park. This year is more elaborately decorated than the years before: The neighborhood group raised funds to add even more lighting. Wander along the walkways with your family and friends and admire the wrapped trees and lights draped around the pergola.

Head over to Roseville for the OVALumination skating rink. There are over 120 trees, all twinkling with cheery rainbow lights. For $6 admission and a $4 skate rental if you need, you can test your balance on the ice, maybe adding a spin move or bringing along a puck for a pick-up game of ice hockey. The OVAL has a dual-ring setup. The outer ring is reserved for skaters making laps around the rink; the inner ring offers opportunities for sporting purposes. If you’d prefer to see the lights closer up, you can walk along the treeline. You can also warm up and do some holiday shopping at one of the shops in the Rosedale Mall just a couple of miles away. There are also multiple restaurants to satisfy your hard-earned appetite from skating.

Witness the glittering outdoor lights display at the Minnesota Landscape Arboretum. There are seven themed displays to enjoy, including Jingle All the Way, Polar Pond, Frozen Forest and more. While there, you can purchase hot chocolate, cookies, s’mores, beer and wine. On select days, there will also be live musical performances from groups such as the Minnetonka Youth Choir and Jazz on the Prairie Big Band. Admission for non-members is $15.

The University of Minnesota’s College of Science and Engineering proudly presents its seventh annual CSE Winter Light Show. The dazzling student-designed 3D light performance involves over 250,000 LED lights, all sequenced to music. A significant portion of the music is composed and performed by University of Minnesota students, as well. There is an estimated 5 miles (or more!) of lights and extension cords; other show features include a 5-foot-by-12-foot lighted pixelated changeable sign and an 8-foot 3D snowman sign. The entire show will last about 20 minutes and is free and open to the public. Catch a show Dec. 1, 2, 7, 8, or 9, with shows starting at 5:30, 6, and 6:30 p.m. each night.

Venture to Loring Park for the Holidazzle festivities put on by the mpls downtown council and Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board. This well-loved tradition offers free, family-friendly programming to the public. The entire park is lit with thousands of lights to illuminate the various activities. There is a Kid Zone and game area, a skating rink with free skate rentals, movie showings, musical performances, Santa Claus appearances, and so much more. Take in the Wolf and Moose art installations—interactive, light up exhibits that allow the viewers to peddle and engage in the art itself—and make sure you don’t miss the fireworks displays happening every Saturday of December through Christmas. Holidazzle is open Thursdays through Sundays, Nov. 24-Dec. 23.

As a Bonus: Make a road trip up to Duluth and stroll through Bentleyville, “America’s Largest Free Walk Through Lighting Display.” The 20-acre park, located on the shores of Lake Superior, shimmers with the glow of over four million Christmas lights. There is complimentary hot chocolate, cookies, popcorn and roasted marshmallows. Kiddos can get their photo taken with Santa, and those 10 and under will receive a free stocking cap. If you get chilly on your tour of the lights, you can warm up by one of the fire pits scattered throughout the park. Bentleyville is open through the day after Christmas, when they will have a fireworks display as a grand finale of a joyful holiday season.

Enjoy your celebrations this holiday season—it is merry and bright, after all.

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