10 great places to plug into the Christmas spirit

Ho, ho, ho, it's to the lights we go. In his new book Merry Christmas, America! Megawatt Displays Across the USA,Bruce Littlefieldtakes a look at spectacularly illuminated lawns and parks nationwide in the holiday season. Here, he shares his picks with USA TODAY.

The Thompsons; Richmond, Va.

Al Thompson is a cheerleader for Christmas. His house, part of Richmond's renowned "Tacky Light Tour," attracts thousands of wide-eyed pilgrims each year. His display consists of more than 170,000 lights and more than 150 homemade, hand-painted figures. "His is a Christmas vision to behold," Littlefield says. "From the apex of his roof to the tiptoe edge of the curb, he's got Christmas covered." Address: 9716 Wendhurst Dr., Glen Allen, Va., just outside Richmond.

Fifth Avenue; New York City

"America began tripping the electric light fantastic in New York City on Dec. 22, 1882," Littlefield says. "That's when Edward Johnson, the business partner of Thomas Edison, designed 80 red, white and blue electric light bulbs the size of walnuts and displayed them on the Christmas tree in his Fifth Avenue apartment." The city remains the center of the lighting universe: From the Rockefeller Tree to Fifth Avenue windows, nothing sparkles like Christmas in New York.

Blossoms of Light; Denver

The Denver Botanic Gardens creates 23 acres of magic with more than 1 million lights in its gardens. Around every corner, flora is aflame with light and color — everything from a forest of trees in autumnal hues to electric green lily pads floating atop a frozen pond. The park offers visitors special 3-D glasses that "make the experience akin to walking inside a sparkling snow globe," Littlefield says. Address: 1005 York St. 720-865-3585; botanicgardens.org

The Fitzgeralds; Lutz, Fla.

Roberta Fitzgerald's display began with a rack that held one of the floral arrangements at her 8-year-old daughter Brandi's funeral. "Brandi loved the lights," Littlefield says. "And when she died a few weeks before Christmas, her stepfather, Darrell, turned the triangular metal rack upside down, fashioned it into a little tree and covered it in green lights. Eighteen years later, and the little green tree is warmed by the glow of tens of thousands of lights and guarded by an army of a dozen Santas, more than 30 snowmen, eight reindeer and at least double the original Three Wise Men." Address: 18522 Sunward Lake Place, Lutz, near Tampa.

Trail of Lights; Austin

Exemplifying that everything is big in Texas, Austin's Trail of Lights features more than 1.5 million strands of lights in a mile-long display of 43 lighted scenes. The display also presents the Zilker Tree, billed as "The World's Tallest Man-Made Christmas Tree," standing 165 feet tall and built around one of Austin's Moonlight Towers (early streetlights). There's a tradition that has evolved in which couples lock arms and spin under the tree while looking up. "The result is a lightheadedness," Littlefield says. "And a very good excuse to fall to the ground and smooch." Address: 2100 Barton Springs Rd. 512-974-6700; www.ci.austin.tx.us/tol

The Hosiers; Baltimore

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