10 great places to plug into the Christmas spirit

ByCraig Wilson, USA TODAY

— -- 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

Bob Hosier fell in love with decorating as a child when "the old lady" across the street draped her house in lights and played Christmas music on her porch Victrola. Bob then married into a family that loved Christmas as much as his own family, and moved into his wife Darlene's childhood home in Baltimore, which his father-in-law had been decorating since 1947. Bob got neighborly and swagged the lights back and forth across the street, sparking a tradition. "The block looks like Santa's sleigh flew in from the southwest and skidded down the rooftops, spilling Christmas about," Littlefield says. Address: 726 W. 34th St., Baltimore.

Christmas in Lights; Mason, Ohio

Remember the house that danced to Trans-Siberian Orchestra's Wizard in Winter and became so popular it made national news? "Carson Williams' show was so magical it was e-mailed and 'YouTubed' to most desktops in America," Littlefield says. "The result sent thousands flocking to his cul-de-sac." For the safety of his neighbors, his display has moved to a town park where, like patrons at a drive-in movie, 50 carloads at a time can listen to the soundtrack on their car radios and delight in the lights. The display — which includes two wooden replicas of the Williams home's facade — used 1,800 feet of lumber and 3,500 feet of cable, and cost $192,000 to produce. Address: Heritage Oak Park in Mason, near Cincinnati. festivalsofmason.com

The Liquoris; Glen Cove, Long Island, N.Y.

After 20 years of all-out decorating, Michael and Rosina Liquori's yard is a Long Island legend. It's filled with more than 400 plastic blow molds (formed plastic creations) and countless lights. "Let's just say it stops traffic," Littlefield says. "Their street is always packed with onlookers and satellite trucks filming the spectacle for the television news." Address: 33 Francis Terrace.

Christmas Boat Parade; Newport Beach, Calif.

Newport Beach's floating Christmas card to the world began in 1907 when a relocated Italian gondolier took visitors on a ride across Balboa Bay in a gondola decorated with Japanese lanterns. Years later, the five-night, 14-mile parade attracts more than 1 million spectators and more than 100 vessels, including luxury yachts bejeweled with $50,000 worth of lights. "Imagine how hard it is hanging off your house hanging the lights," Littlefield says. "Now try doing that floating." 949-729-4400; Christmasboatparade.com

Candy Cane Lane; Seattle

Legend has it that Japanese immigrant Tatsuya Kawabata returned to Seattle after two years in a World War II internment camp and showed his forgiving spirit by creating a tableau in his yard for Christmas. By the 1950s, that spirit had spread, and each yard in his cul-de-sac had a homemade stovepipe candy cane. By the 1960s, the 24 houses along "Candy Cane Lane" had signs reading "peace" in different languages. Address: Park Road Northeast.

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