Bright, shiny objects plus dark night skies is the perfect formula for holiday magic. This month, three Montgomery County venues are bringing out the bulbs to brighten our holidays and light the way to a new year: Gaithersburg’s Winter Lights, Brookside Gardens’ Garden of Lights in Wheaton and the Festival of Lights at the Visitors’ Center of the Washington D.C. Temple of The Church of Jesus Christ in Kensington.
Lest you think that each year is a repeat performance, CultureSpotMC.com goes behind the scenes to illuminate what’s new this year:
It’s the 22nd season for the City of Gaithersburg’s Winter Lights Festival at Seneca Creek State Park. Put on your pajamas, pile in the car and put on your prism glasses (provided at the check-in gate) for this drive-through extravaganza. What’s new this year? “We have an exciting new display called Neptune’s Chariot. We may have one more, but it is not a definite yet; there are a few things still being worked out,” Program Coordinator Breanna Oland said.
If you missed last year’s display, the Princess Kissing a Frog will be new to you, too. Look for it just before you reach the Toy Castle.
“Last year, attendance grew by eight percent,” said Oland, perhaps due to the special events that have been added over the years. This year, three new ones took place before the light show opened.
On Nov. 24, the park opens to all for the 3.5-mile drive featuring over 380 illuminated displays and about 65 animated vignettes. Themed areas include Winter Woods, Teddy Bear Land, Victorian Village and the North Pole. Tune into holiday music on the 97.1 WASH FM to complete the experience.
The Winter Lights Festival at Seneca Creek State Park, 11950 Clopper Road, Gaithersburg, is open Nov. 24 to Dec. 31. It is closed Dec. 25. Hours are 6 to 9 p.m. Sunday through Thursday, and 6 to 10 p.m. Friday and Saturday. Admission for cars, SUV’s and mini-vans, Monday through Thursday, is $12; Friday through Sunday, $15. For information, visit www.gaithersburgmd.gov/leisure/winter-lights-festival. Winter Lights is open rain or shine, although the City may make decisions surrounding safety in the event of a weather emergency. Call 301-330-0050, ext. 2434, for updates and cancellations.
Insider Tip: Save a few bucks by looking up the special offer through Certifikids for admission on certain days.
Chew & View: On Dec. 8, you can enjoy a delicious, festive dinner before Winter Lights at Gaithersburg’s Casey Community Center. “Chili” Winter Night runs from 6 to 9 p.m. and combines a warm chili dinner with a bus tour of the Winter Lights Festival. Admission is $10 for adults, $8 for children, ages 4 to 10, free for ages 3 and younger, and includes dinner, beverages and Winter Lights admission. Registration deadline is Nov. 30; call 301-258-6366 to reserve a spot. Learn more about this event on CultureSpotMC here.
Next up, Brookside Gardens’ Garden of Lights. Now in its 20th year, this Montgomery County Parks gem transforms more than one million points of lights into flowers, animals and other natural elements.
“This year, look for themed color gardens,” said Montgomery Parks’ Susan Stafford. “The Yew Garden will be green, red and yellow. The Rain Garden will be red, white and blue. The Rose Garden will be pink and warm white. The Fragrance Garden will be amber, green and white.”
“There are also several new forms to create a more immersive and whimsical experience,” Stafford said. “Two mushroom fields will be added to the fairy tale display, and a family of 14 turtles, inspired by the Gardens’ own turtles, will be crawling up a lighted log. The 12 mushrooms vary in size, from 18 to 32 inches.” Remember Nessie the large Loch Ness Monster? She will be showing off a new smoke feature.
Indoor extras include hot cocoa and nightly musical performances in the Visitors Center and a free G-Scale model train exhibit in the Conservatory. The exhibit, produced by the volunteers of the Virginia, Washington and Maryland Garden Railway Society, features large trains that run through various miniature reproductions of local Montgomery County landmarks.
For both indoor and outdoor activities, comfortable shoes and warm clothing are recommended.
A concert series in conjunction with Garden of Lights includes a classical harpist, jazz, recorder, swing, Celtic Folk music, traditional Appalachian tunes and more. See the website for a complete line-up. Concerts begin Nov. 25.
Hours for the Festival of Lights at Brookside Gardens at 1800 Glenallan Ave., Wheaton, are 5:30 to 9 p.m. Sunday through Thursday, and 5:30 to 10 p.m. Friday and Saturday. The festival runs from Nov. 24 through Jan. 1, but is not open Dec. 24 and 25. Admission is $25 per car or van Sunday through Thursday, and $30 Friday and Saturday. $25 advance sale tickets are available at the gift shop. The last car is admitted 30 minutes before closing time each night. For safety reasons, pedestrians are not admitted. For information, visit www.montgomeryparks.org/parks-and-trails/brookside-gardens/garden-of-lights. The Garden of Lights is open rain or shine. Service animals are welcome; pets are not. Learn more about this event on CultureSpotMC here.
Also brimming with holiday cheer is the Festival of Lights at the Temple of the Church of Jesus Christ in Kensington. This year will be the 40th year for this festival, which has become a must-see event for families of all denominations.
“Outside, you will find over 650,000 lights and inside, 14 trees beautifully decorated, many with a story behind them,” share Cheryl Ferrin. Ferrin and her husband Mark are directors of the Visitors Center.
The festival also famously features free nightly musical performances in the Visitors Center theater. Bell ensembles, choirs, orchestras and more fill the space for at least two concerts each evening. New this year are some earlier shows for children. “We wanted to add some 4:30 p.m. performances for those with earlier bedtimes. This allows families to attend the concert and by the time they go outside to see the trees, it’s dark and the lights are in all their glory,” Ferrin said.
Familiar favorites are on the concert schedule, along with newcomer, the Army Percussion Ensemble, which takes the stage Dec. 17.
Also new this year is the ability to get tickets online, so coming early and standing in line is unnecessary. “The theater has 550 seats. We will make 400 tickets available online and retain 150 at the box office for walk-ups,” Ferrin said. “Just be sure to select the Kensington, MD location when booking online,” she added, as there are several similar events on the EventBrite.com website.
Ferrin underscored that admission to all events is free and that the festival is even open on Christmas Day. In fact, Ferrin pointed out, it is one of their most popular days. “Last year, we had 9,000 people on Christmas Day alone,” she said.
The Festival of Lights, at the Temple of the Church of Jesus Christ, 9900 Stoneybrook Drive, Kensington, is open daily from 10 a.m. to 10 p.m., Nov. 30 through Dec. 31. A full list of concerts can be found online at https://dctemplelights.lds.org.