Abundance. Opulence. Magnificence. These are just a few words that aptly describe the holiday lights celebrations at the Winter Lights Festival in Gaithersburg, Brookside Gardens’ Garden of Lights in Wheaton and the Festival of Lights at the Visitors’ Center of the Temple of The Church of Jesus Christ in Kensington.
Here’s what’s new at all three venues:
Festival of Lights at the Temple of the Church of Jesus Christ
Nothing says “over the top” like the Temple of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints which presides over the beltway in Kensington. During the holidays, the Temple dials it up to “11” for the annual Festival of Lights which draws thousands of viewers from near and far.
Mark Ferrin, festival coordinator, said the 650,000-light display will be as amped up as ever, remains free and continues to offer free nightly concerts featuring bell ensembles, choirs and orchestras.
Ferrin added that this year, “tickets are available online on a first-come, first-served basis.” This saves time and adds convenience. Last year, tickets were handed out 60 minutes prior to each performance.
Enjoy Christmas trees decorated in international themes and crèches from around the world. A life-sized outdoor nativity is one of the Temple’s hallmark attractions.
Ferrin warned about construction taking place in the parking lot. “Parking will be limited, so [we] are encouraging carpools and commercial transportation,” he said.
The Festival of Lights is located at the Temple of the Church of Jesus Christ, 9900 Stoneybrook Drive, Kensington. Hours are 5 to 10 p.m. daily, Dec. 1 through Jan. 1. Free tickets to nightly events are available online at templefestivaloflights2018.eventbrite.com.\
Winter Lights Festival at Gaithersburg’s Seneca Creek Park
The City of Gaithersburg’s Winter Lights Festival welcomes visitors for its 23rd season. Organizers of this popular-for-all-ages, drive-through wonderland have added even more magic to this year’s experience. “We have rearranged the placement of several of the displays to give it a fresh look,” said Senior Program Supervisor Carolyn Crosby. “And we have added a new style of lights to many of the park trees, which we are really excited about.”
“The biggest thing that is new is that we are selling tickets via Eventbrite,” she added, “which means patrons can purchase tickets in advance, online. This will save them time at the admissions booth and should make the lines move a little faster, especially on busy nights. People can purchase a weeknight or a weekend ticket to use any time during the season. Weeknight tickets can be easily upgraded at the admissions booth if someone decides to come on a weekend with a weeknight ticket. We generally recommend people come on weeknights to avoid long lines.”
The 3.5-mile drive features more than 450 illuminated displays and 65 animated vignettes. Themes include Winter Woods, Teddy Bear Land, Victorian Village, the North Pole, Princess Kissing a Frog and Toy Castle.
Drivers are reminded to tune into holiday music on the radio and to try the prism glasses ($3 at the entry booth) for an even livelier experience.
The Winter Lights Festival at Seneca Creek State Park, 11950 Clopper Road, Gaithersburg is open 6 to 9 p.m. Sunday through Thursday; 6 to 10 p.m. Friday and Saturday through Dec. 31 (except Dec. 25). Admission for cars, SUVs and mini-vans: Monday through Thursday, $12; Friday through Sunday, $17. For larger vehicle pricing and additional 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.
Garden of Lights at Brookside Gardens
Brookside Gardens gets even greener this year with the launch of an all-LED, all-solar-powered display. It’s a great way to mark the 20th anniversary of Garden of Lights and “has been years in the making,” said Stephanie Oberle, Brookside Gardens’ Director.
The LED lights are run off two new Montgomery Parks solar fields, which “covers the cost…and mitigates the impact” of the energy used by this popular non-religious winter celebration featuring one million colorful lights shaped into forms of flowers, animals, and other natural elements. This economy of cost and reduced carbon footprint “allows us to put up more lights because they use so much less energy,” Oberle noted, adding that the solar panels essentially “let us turn daylight into night lights.”
More lights mean more up-lighting, “highlighting the architecture of the trees,” Oberle said. “It also means no dark spots. Less energy consumption affords an extra week of festivities, as well. For the first time, the event will open prior to Thanksgiving, providing local families hosting visitors an exciting, outdoor “something to do.”
Favorites include Nessie the Loch Ness Monster, a large caterpillar that visitors can walk through, nightly musical performances in the Visitors Center, and a G-Scale model train exhibit in the Conservatory. The train 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, such as the Red Door Store in Sandy Spring, the Kensington MARC railway station, Glen Echo Park and Brookside Gardens’ itself.
More than 45,000 visitors are expected this year. Comfortable shoes and warm clothing are recommended, as the experience is mostly outdoors. Leave time to warm up with refreshments such as cider and hot coca, which are available to purchase. There will also be a fire pit to roast marshmallows and make s’mores.
Brookside Gardens is located at 1800 Glenallan Ave., Wheaton. Hours are 5:30 to 9 p.m. Sunday through Thursday, and 5:30 to 10 p.m. Friday and Saturday, through Jan. 1, except Dec. 24 and 25. Admission is $25 per car or van Sunday through Thursday, and $30 Friday and Saturday. Prices for larger vehicles are available online. The last car is admitted 30 minutes before closing time. For safety reasons, pedestrians are not admitted. The Garden of Lights is open rain or shine. For more information, visit www.montgomeryparks.org/parks-and-trails/brookside-gardens/garden-of-lights.