Montgomery County flips the switch on holiday celebrations with the last of the leftover turkey. With three glorious outdoor light exhibits, where to begin? Choose from 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. Or check them all out! CultureSpotMC breaks down the where’s and when’s and why MoCo-ites look forward to these bright spots all year long.
Winter Lights Festival
The City of Gaithersburg’s Winter Lights Festival is welcoming visitors for its 21st season at Seneca Creek State Park in Gaithersburg. This drive-through experience is conducive to children in their pajamas and North Pole believers of all ages.
The park provides an enchanted backdrop for the 3.5-mile drive, with 380 illuminated displays and 65 animated vignettes lighting up the night. Themed areas include Winter Woods, Teddy Bear Land, Victorian Village and the North Pole. New this year is the Princess Kissing a Frog display as you approach the Toy Castle, said Program Coordinator Ilana Guttin who designs the displays with a colleague. This is an original parks-staff design.
This year, “more trees were wrapped in LED lights to highlight the natural beauty of the park,” Guttin added. Attendees are reminded to tune into holiday music on the radio as they meander, and to don prism glasses to amplify the experience.
Note that in the spirit of the holidays, a portion of admission proceeds will benefit five local nonprofits: Baby’s Bounty, Rebuilding Together Montgomery County, Kentlands Community Foundation, Girl on the Run of Montgomery County and Women Who Care Ministries.
Insider Tip: Save a few bucks with a Certifikids deal (www.certifikid.com) for weekday admission for a carload and four pairs of prism glasses.
The Winter Lights Festival at Seneca Creek State Park, 11950 Clopper Road, Gaithersburg, is open 6 to 9 p.m. Sunday through Thursday, and 6 to 10 p.m. Friday and Saturday through Dec. 31 (except Dec. 25): Admission for cars, SUV’s and mini-vans, Monday through Thursday, $12; Friday through Sunday, $15. For prices for larger vehicles 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. View this event on CultureSpotMC here.
Garden of Lights
Brookside Gardens been transformed for the holidays. Now in its 19th year, the Garden of Lights features more than one million colorful lights shaped into hand-crafted, original art forms of flowers, animals and other natural elements. Crowd favorites include Nessie the Loch Ness Monster, a frog that croaks and a large caterpillar visitors can walk through. Wear comfortable shoes and warm clothing for an outdoor experience complete with twinkling tree forms, fountains and sparkling snowflakes.
Michael Zajic was the show’s original designer—a role taken over in 2003 by Jeff Patterson, said Melissa Chotiner, Montgomery Parks’ media relations manager. Patterson has been doing the designs ever since with the help and ideas of staff.
New this year is “a fire pit where people can purchase a s’mores kit and other refreshments to enjoy around the fire,” said Chotiner. “Every year, we [also] buy new light colors that aren’t yet available to the public.”
Indoor extras include hot cocoa and nightly musical performances in the Visitors Center and a 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, such as the Red Door Store in Sandy Spring, the Kensington MARC railway station, Glen Echo Park and even Brookside Gardens’ Conservatories.
Brookside Gardens expects more than 45,000 visitors this year. Weather is always a factor, but Chotiner noted that attendance has risen from 35,000 visitors just a few years ago.
Hours for the Garden of Lights at Brookside Gardens, 1800 Glenallan Ave., Wheaton, 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. View this event on CultureSpotMC here.
Festival of Lights
You can’t miss the Temple of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Literally. It shoots into the sky along the Beltway in Kensington and can be seen for miles around. Visitors flock to the Temple’s Festival of Lights, which has become a family and community tradition. In fact, the tradition extends to many Temples across the country. “The one in Salt Lake City is especially famous,” says Temple spokesperson Marie Fowler. This year, expect “More lights, more colors for an even brighter” experience, Fowler said, adding that “100,000 visitors from start to finish” are expected.
In addition to the magnificent display of more than 650,000 lights, the festival features free performances in the state-of-the-art Visitors’ Center theater. Bell ensembles, choirs, orchestras and more fill the space for two concerts every evening. Concert tickets are handed out at the Visitors’ Center 60 minutes before each performance on a first-come, first-served basis. Individuals may pick up tickets for other members of their party.
The Festival also features Christmas trees decorated in international themes and crèches from around the world. A life-sized outdoor nativity tops off the Temple’s impressive display.
The Festival of Lights is at the Temple of the Church of Jesus Christ, 9900 Stoneybrook Drive, Kensington, daily from 10 a.m. to 10 p.m. through Jan. 1.