BRANSON, Missouri: Silver Dollar City celebrates “Old Time Christmas” with a five-story special effects Christmas Tree and millions of lights. Nov. 3-Dec. 30.
CHATTANOOGA, Tennessee: Rock City Garden’s “Enchanted Garden of Lights” celebrates its 17th year with more than 30 holiday scenes and more than one million lights. Enjoy hot cocoa, gingerbread cookie decorating, face painting and costume dress up with Sugar Plum Fairy Makeovers and nightly entertainment.Nov.18- Dec. 31 (closed Christmas Eve).
CHICAGO, Illinois: This is the place to be for “The Magnificent Mile Lights Festival” with a Mickey and Minnie Mouse Parade on Nov. 17 and more than one million lights shimmering along the tony Michigan Avenue shopping district all season long. Take a stroll along Michigan Avenue north of the Chicago River and State Street south of the river to see the old-fashioned holiday store window displays. The Museum of Science and Industry illuminates “Christmas Around the World” and “Holidays of Light” with more than 50 trees and displays to reflect worldwide holiday traditions. Nov. 15- Jan. 6. “Christkindlmarket,” a German-American Holiday Market is celebrating its 16th year in Daley Plaza. Nov. 21- Dec. 24.
CLEVELAND, Ohio: Head to Nela Park, home of GE’s Lighting Division in East Cleveland, to see thousands of lights illuminate buildings along Noble Road. Visit between early December and New Year’s Day for this holiday tradition which started in 1925.
DEARBORN, Michigan: “Holiday Nights” at Greenfield Village is lit the old-fashioned way--with oil lamps and fireworks. Sing Christmas carols, ice skate, take a ride in a Model T and see how Christmas was celebrated in Henry Ford’s era. Dec. 1, 7-8, 14-16, 18-23 and 26-27, 2012 (6:30 - 10pm). Buying tickets in advance is highly recommended.
GATLINBURG, Tennessee: The 22nd annual “Winter Magic” light displays will feature animals indigenous to Great Smoky Mountains National Park. Take the tour aboard the city's guided trolley. Nov. 7-Feb. 28.
INDIANAPOLIS, Indiana: The city celebrates the 50th anniversary of the “Circle of Lights” by illuminating the Indiana Soldiers and Sailors Monument with 26 gigantic toy soldiers and sailors, 26 giant peppermint sticks and nearly 5,000 lights. Many Indianapolis attractions offer free admission on one of the 12 days leading to Christmas. Nov. 25-early January.
KANSAS CITY, Missouri: The “Season of Lights” at Country Club Plaza is an 82-year-long tradition with 80 miles of lights decorating 15 blocks of the city. The Mayor’s Christmas Tree at Hallmark’s Crown Center, meanwhile, is 100 feet tall – taller than those on display at the White House and Rockefeller Center. The lighting ceremony will take place on Nov. 22.
MILWAUKEE, Wisconsin: The “Holiday Lights Festival” includes some 500,000 lights, animated sculptures and Moravian Stars along Wisconsin Avenue. Each year, three downtown Milwaukee parks are set aglow by animated scenes, dancing luminaries and thousands of lights. Visit Cathedral Square Park, Pere Marquette Park and Zeidler Union Square. Nov. 15-Dec. 31.
PIGEON FORGE, Tennessee: More than five million holiday lights illuminate gigantic displays during “Winterfest.” Ride through in a heated Pigeon Forge Trolley Nov. 6-Feb. 28. The Dollywood theme park adds another four million lights for its Smoky Mountain Christmas Nov. 10-Dec. 30.
ST. PAUL, Minnesota: The electrical workers union, IBEW, presents “Holiday Lights in the Park” with more than 50 huge holiday light sculptures and animated displays in Phalen Park. A fun and affordable holiday event for families, the event also serves a great cause: Proceeds will be donated to local nonprofit organizations. Nov. 20-Jan. 1.
Eileen Ogintz is a leading national family travel expert whose syndicated column Taking the Kids is the most widely distributed column in the country on family travel. She also is the author of seven family travel books. Special thanks to Becca Tasch for her invaluable research assistance on this story.
Check out all 52 Holiday Lights displays across the country:
Southeast Holiday Lights
Celebrating Christmas in the Northeast
Light Up Your Holiday in the Midwest
Holiday Lights of the South and West
Or see them all in our gorgeous ezine, 52 Holiday Light Delights
You can also read the full package of stories on family travel sites, Taking the Kids and Family Travel Forum.