Photos: Holiday lights

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  1. Shaanxi Province, China

    A Christmas tree installed with lanterns, measuring over 10 meters high, is illuminated beside sculptures of ancient people in the background of the Big Wild Goose Pagoda on Dec. 24, in Xian of Shaanxi Province, China. Christmas is becoming increasingly popular in Chinese consumer culture, along with the Valentine's Day in February and Halloween in October. (China Photos / Getty Images Contributor) Back to slideshow navigation
  2. Russia

    Fireworks explode around a Christmas tree in the center of the Siberian city of Krasnoyarsk, Russia on Friday, Dec. 24. (Ilya Naymushin / Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  3. Beijing, China

    People take pictures on a stairway at a shopping mall in Beijing, China, on Wednesday, Dec. 22. (Diego Azubel / EPA) Back to slideshow navigation
  4. Washington, D.C.

    The National Christmas Tree is seen in front of the White House on Dec. 9 after President Barack Obama and his family helped light it. (Molly Riley / Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  5. Beirut

    Fireworks explode as a giant Christmas tree and an old building in Beirut are illuminated Dec. 9 during the "Beirut Celebrates 2010" Christmas parade. (Mohamed Azakir / Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  6. New York

    The 78th annual Rockefeller Center Christmas Tree is pictured between sculptures of angels after the Nov. 30 lighting ceremony in New York. (Shannon Stapleton / Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  7. Moscow

    A Christmas tree is installed Dec. 2 in Moscow's Red Square with St. Basil Cathedral in the background. (Mikhail Metzel / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  8. Winterberg, Germany

    The historic center of Winterberg, with the St. Jakobus church in the background, is festively illuminated Nov. 24 for Christmas. (Julian Stratenschulte / AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  9. Hong Kong

    From left, a 30-meter pyramid made up of crystal blocks is lit up Nov. 29 in front of skyscrapers in Hong Kong's financial business district during the Christmas lighting ceremony. (Ym Yik / EPA) Back to slideshow navigation
  10. Washington, D.C.

    People attend the Christmas tree lighting ceremony on the west front of the U.S. Capitol building Dec. 7 while the Washington monument glows in the distance in Washington, D.C. This year's tree, a 67-foot Engelmann spruce, came from Wyoming's Bridger-Teton National Forest. Strands of energy-efficient LED lights and hand-made ornaments from Wyoming residents decorate the tree. (Chip Somodevilla / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  11. London

    Buses drive under the Christmas lights on Oxford Street Nov. 23 in London. (Ian Gavan / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  12. Tokyo

    A couple walks toward a Christmas tree at a shopping mall Nov. 24 in Tokyo. (Yuriko Nakao / Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  13. Beals Island, Maine

    Albert Carver looks at a 50-foot-tall Christmas tree made of lobster traps Dec. 2 on Beals Island, Maine. Some of the top lobster-fishing ports in New England are claiming bragging rights about who has the biggest and best Christmas tree created from lobster traps. The groups that put up the trees say they draw attention to the ports' maritime heritage, bring people together and raise money for good causes. The tree in Beals helps raises money for the Beals-Jonesport Fourth of July festivities and the one in Gloucester benefits a nonprofit devoted to the arts. (Robert F. Bukaty / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  14. Berlin

    A vendor for Christmas stars awaits customers Nov. 22 at the Christmas market on the Alexanderplatz in Berlin. (Markus Schreiber / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  15. Gelsenkirchen, Germany

    A couple walk with their dog toward an illuminated Christmas tree Dec. 1 in front of a manor house in Gelsenkirchen, western Germany. (Martin Meissner / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  16. Dortmund, Germany

    Children play with their sled in front of the house of Lutz Pingel, which is decorated with Christmas lights, on Nov. 30 in Dortmund, Germany. Each year several owners set up fairy lights at their houses for Christmas. (Ina Fassbender / Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  17. Frankfurt, Germany

    Hundreds of people gather at the Christmas Market in Frankfurt, Germany, which officially opened Nov. 24 with the lighting of the tree. (Michael Probst / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  18. Tbilisi, Georgia

    An illumination resembling a Christmas tree is displayed Dec. 2 at the monument to St. George at the Freedom Square in Tbilisi, the capital of Georgia. (Shakh Aivazov / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  19. Cali, Colombia

    People look at illuminated Christmas decorations Dec. 6 in Cali, Colombia. (Jaime Saldarriaga / Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  20. London

    Choristers perform in front of Westminster Abbey's Christmas tree Dec. 6 in Westminster, London. (Facundo Arrizabalaga / EPA) Back to slideshow navigation
  21. Warsaw, Poland

    Christmas illuminations decorate the Royal Route on Dec. 2. in Warsaw, Poland. (Radek Pietruszka / EPA) Back to slideshow navigation
  22. Dortmund, Germany

    People stand at a Christmas market stall in front of Germany's biggest Christmas tree Nov. 25 in the city center of Dortmund. The 45-meter tree is made of 1,700 Norway spruces and illuminated by 48,000 lamps. Christmas markets have been a German tradition for about 600 years and are found in nearly every city in Germany during the advent season. (Martin Meissner / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  23. Palawan city, Philippines

    Fireworks light up the sky Dec. 1 near the 120 foot-tall Christmas tree display at the Baywalk in Palawan city, Philippines. The Philippines, the largest Roman Catholic state in Asia, observes one of the longest Christmas holidays in the world, beginning with dawn masses on Dec. 16 to the feast of Three Kings in January. (Romeo Ranoco / Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  24. Rio de Janeiro

    Fireworks explode from a Christmas tree Dec. 4 during the lighting ceremony at Rodrigo de Freitas Lake in Rio de Janeiro. (Sergio Moraes / Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  25. Berlin

    Trees illuminated by Christmas lights are reflected in a puddle Nov. 25 in Unter den Linden street in Berlin. (Thomas Peter / Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
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By
Tribune Media Services
updated 12/22/2010 12:38:09 PM ET 2010-12-22T17:38:09

Thank goodness for that hot chocolate.

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As a kid, we would bundle up (this was New York, after all) and then nudge and push until we got a glimpse of the great tree at Rockefeller Center, this year strung with 30,000 LED lights. Ditto for the lavishly decorated store windows lining Fifth Avenue. The crowds were much more than we anticipated and sometimes we could barely see the fanciful displays. We were usually freezing and begging my parents to leave.

Honestly, the most fun was the hot chocolate afterward.

I bet you have the same holiday memories. You would think I’d have learned, but years later I made my husband repeat the drill with our kids in downtown Chicago. (There was one memorable holiday visit when my 2-year-old daughter got her lips stuck “kissing” the door of the Museum of Science and Industry where we’d gone to see the famous display of Christmas trees from around the world.

If we were lucky enough to be in a ski town over the holidays, we’d gawk at the lights in Jackson Hole, Wyo., (the kids especially loved the huge Town Square Antler Arch, which was comprised of some 2,000 antlers) or on historic Crested Butte’s main street, Elk Avenue or the quintessential New England ski town Stowe, Vt., which offers its own ski museum.

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But I think the most fun we had was driving around a neighborhood where we knew no one, gawking at the displays — the more garish the better. This was, of course, before the days when my environmentally minded kids worried about the wasted energy.

Wherever you are this holiday season, take some time to see the lights with the kids. In most cases, it won’t cost anything (except for a hot drink afterward). If your family is anything like mine, you are guaranteed memories that will last for years — though they won’t necessarily be the ones you anticipated. (We still talk about that Chicago “ice kiss” every winter.)

Here are 20 festivals of lights, large and small, for your gang to check out:

1. The River of Lights, Albuquerque, N.M.
This is New Mexico’s largest walk-through holiday light show in Rio Grande Botanic Garden, featuring giant light sculptures of plants, animals and seasonal themes.

2. Holiday Trail of Lights, Athens, Ohio
You can hike through the forest to view more than 100,000 lights at Holiday Trail of Lights in Lake Hope State Park in southeast Ohio.

3. Trail of Lights, Austin, Texas
Zilker Park’s Trail of Lights is a mile-long stretch with seasonal scenes composed of multi-colored twinkle lights. There is also an annual Armadillo Christmas Bazaar.

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4. Freedom Trail Holiday Stroll, Boston, Mass.
The Freedom Trail Holiday Stroll features the largest Christmas tree in New England. Take the walk or check out the display of 40 decorated holiday trees.

5. Holiday Festival of Lights, Charleston, S.C.
Celebrate the Holiday Festival of Lights in Charleston County Park where you’ll drive three miles through millions of lights and hundreds of displays.

6. The Moody Gardens Festival of Lights, Galveston, Texas
The Moody Gardens Festival of Lights is one of the largest celebrations on the Gulf Coast with more than 100 sound-enhanced light displays and more than 1 million lights!

7. Lighted Christmas Balls, Greensboro, N.C.
Tool around the neighborhood of Sunset Hill viewing hundreds of lighted Christmas balls that float through the trees. Those touring are invited to bring nonperishable food items for the poor. Last year, more than 3,000 pounds of food were donated.

8. Circle of Lights, Indianapolis, Ind.
The Circle of Lights is celebrating its 48th year and includes 26 gigantic toy soldiers and sailors and 90,000 lights in the trees. Many Indianapolis attractions offer free admission on one of the 12 days leading up to Christmas.

9. Milwaukee Holiday Lights Festival, Milwaukee, Wis.
Thousands of lights, animated displays and even a stretch of Moravian Stars stretch along Wisconsin Avenue.

10. Christmas Town USA, McAdenville, N.C.
McAdenville is known throughout the state as Christmas Town USA for its holiday lights. Virtually every home is decorated.

11. Christmas By the Sea, Mystic, Conn.
Stroll through the decorated 10th-century village and listen to holiday stories told aboard historic vessels, or print a Christmas card, buy a souvenir toy or build a creation at a Gingerbread Workshop.

12. Nights of a Thousand Candles, Pawleys Island, S.C..
Brook Green Gardens’ Nights of a Thousand Candles includes festive holiday lights and thousands of candles illuminating garden paths.

13. Winterfest, Pigeon Forge, Tenn.
Dollywood theme park puts up more than 5 million holiday lights in gigantic displays. During Winterfest the park adds another 3 million lights and special entertainment for its annual Smoky Mountain Christmas.

14. Callaway Gardens, Pine Mountain, Ga.
Callaway Gardens, just north of Atlanta, features 8 million lights stretching more than five miles, creating 14 holiday scenes.

15. Vintage Christmas, Portsmouth, N.H.
Vintage Christmas touts sparking lights and a month-long festival of strolls and shows. Visit the Strawberry Banke Museum, a living history museum celebrating holiday traditions, including a Russian Jewish Hanukkah and a Victorian Christmas.

16. Tacky Light Tours, Richmond, Va.
This tour is a local tradition where people even rent buses or limos to take it.

17. Holiday of Lights, San Diego, Calif.
Located at the Del Mar Fairgrounds north of San Diego there are more than 350 family-oriented light displays here.

18. Red Rock Fantasy Light Show, Sedona, Ariz.
Sedona celebrates the 20th Anniversary of its light show at Los Abrigados Resort and Spa, which offers 23 displays and more than 1 million lights.

19. Lights on the Lake, Syracuse, N.Y.
This is a two-mile-long drive through one of the largest light shows in the Northeast.

20. 100 Miles of Lights, Virginia Beach, Va.
This scenic, 30-block tour along Virginia Beach’s Ocean Front Boardwalk showcases a 40-foot-tall tree on the beach, as well as a “Fanta-Sea” of Lights display with more than 500,000 lights.

Have a hot chocolate on me.

For more Taking the Kids, visit www.takingthekids.com and also follow "taking the kids" on www.twitter.com, where Eileen Ogintz welcomes your questions and comments.

© 2010 Eileen Ogintz ... Distributed by Tribune Media Services, Inc.

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