For those brave enough to unravel last year’s Christmas tree lights, imagine covering an entire zoo or botanical garden with the glowing bulbs. Across Alabama, the custom of lighting up Christmas rises to the level of art with dancing elves, dancing reindeer, walking gingerbread men, and in one case, a moonless Santa Claus. Displays range from the dramatic to the whimsical, high in the treetops to underground, and from elegant to so kitschy the infamous Griswold house wouldn’t make the cut. From November to January you can fill your senses with holiday spirit. Start early and follow the lighted trail north to south. Or pick an old favorite to share with the whole family. These light shows are full of joy, whimsy, movement, humor and the holidays at their best.
The Galaxy of Lights at Huntsville Botanical Gardens (Huntsville)
Santa Claus meets astronauts in Rocket City. Beginning with a patriotic red glow, moon rovers light the way. A little further down, space meets prehistory with dinosaurs in the air. In between fairy tale heroes, forest scenes and flowers. Follow the 2.5 mile trail through the light scenes either on foot or by car. During night walks, your four-legged friend can chase an animated squirrel. The lights are on from November 11th to January 1st from 5:15pm to 8:30pm
Christmas at the Falls (Gadsden)
Arrive at Noccalula Falls early for a two-for-one spectacle. Get there before dark and take the footpath to the falls where you can see nature’s superb light show with a sunset and view combination. Then take time to stroll through the lights and music of dancing snowflakes and exotic animals. Grab a cup of cocoa and ride the train that circles the light show. Canine companions are welcome on Paws for the Falls nights, but you may want to keep them away from the animated tigers! Santa Claus comes between November 25th and December 23rd. The lights will shine from November 24th to January 2nd.
Annual Sportsman Lake Winter Wonderland (Cullman)
Here’s your chance to hear sleigh bells in the snow. With a snow machine and horse and carriage rides, you can strum all the way through Sportsman Lake Park. Or take the train. Or drive your car and see more than a million lights twinkle along the way. Make your Christmas card picture in the photo booth. Santa can photobomb you with candy canes. The park celebrates its 20thth Year of this holiday spectacular. Open 19-23 November 26-28 December, 1st-5th, 8th-12th, 15th-23rd December. Only one passage is possible from December 26th to 30th.
Wacky Tacky Light Tour (Birmingham)
Against the grain of beautiful lights, the Wacky Tacky Light Tour looks for the most outrageous, craziest, wackiest and downright fun home light shows. They claim their standards are low and difficult to meet. This 2-hour bus tour includes Santa’s Trailer Park, Dueling Neighbors, Mooning Santa, Toomer’s Corner in Lights and Star Wars – because nothing says Christmas quite like a couple of Darth Vaders. Including a Hanukkah house with its spinning Dreidel, Geiger on the roof and Joy to the World, minus the “J”, it’s your most comprehensive light tour choice. The homeowners are caught up in the joke, as someone who hangs 10,000 lights from their roof isn’t cursed with shyness, and they’re lobbying to take part in the tour. The tour runs over four nights: December 13th, 15th, 20th and 22nd, with buses departing every ten minutes. Reservation needed. Attendees can purchase seats or reserve a private bus for this popular fundraiser for underserved children.
Glow Wild at Birmingham Zoo (Birmingham)
Lanterns light up the night at this new Christmas show that has been described as a Zoolight Safari on steroids. Wild animals and sea creatures soar into the sky, illuminated by lantern lights. Along the way, you can spy on a mythical dragon! Before strolling through the zoo, take a ride on the Red Diamond Express Train followed by a spin on the carousel. While you can’t see the animals, you might hear some of the nighttime calls that give the setting all the magic of a lit-up jungle. This show runs on rainy nights from November 16th to January 16th, Wednesday to Sunday from 5pm to 9pm, with admission closing at 8pm
Majestic Cavern’s Christmas Laser Light Show (Childersburg)
Prepare your students as you head into total darkness before laser lights illuminate the caves in a colorful blast. Majestic Caverns (formerly Desoto Caverns) enjoys a large theater for its light show: a 120-foot high and 100-meter-long cathedral cave. This show is the perfect choice for families with young children: it runs during the day, is unaffected by the weather, and stays at a modest 60 degrees year-round. Your Christmas Laser Light Show will be on during all guided tours from November 20th to December 31st from 10:00am to 4:30pm
Montgomery Zoo Christmas Lights Festival (Montgomery)
Penguins can be spotted outside as the Montgomery Zoo transforms into a winter wonderland. Thousands of lights transform into your favorite animals. Walk the tour, but also take a ride on the train or the Zoofair Skylift. Warm up at the Mann Museum while you pick up new decorating ideas from the Christmas tree village. Santa Claus and freshly baked biscuits accompany hot chocolate on selected evenings. Live entertainment plays at the Overlook Cafe. The exhibition runs from December 2nd to 25th. Give the gift of life to animals in the wild at the Animal Angel Tree.
Christmas Nights of Lights (Mobile)
There are no pearls or moon pies, just a million lights—actually, the largest synchronized light show in Alabama. However, the dancing in the streets remains as illuminated figures sway to the music. Tune your car radio to the signposted station while driving. Enjoy new Christmas hits along with your traditional favorites. The path will light your way through nutcrackers, trees and snowflakes as they twinkle to the rhythm. The illumination lasts from November 11 to January 1 from 6 p.m. to 11 p.m
Bellingrath Gardens and Home’s Magic Christmas in Lights (Handy)
Come and see how creative the Gardeners are – three million lights scene crafted and built by three Bellingrath employees. They work all year round and bring the magic to Magic Christmas in Lights. There are many botanical environments such as Secret Garden, Flower Walk and Live Oak Plaza. If you look closely, fish swim in the trees, butterflies flutter and kites roam the Asian-American Garden. A nativity scene and Mardi Gras celebrate two holidays in separate scenes. Candyland and Gumball Cove are popular with little ones. The illuminated path is intended for walking, but wheelchairs and handcarts are available. Tour the house, resplendent in festive decor. Santa Claus can be found in the Magnolia Room every night from November 25th to December 23rd. Hot chocolate and hot food available.
Annual Christmas Lighted Boat Parade (Gulf Shores/Orange Beach)
Decked out from bow to stern, these boats are floating parties. Beginning at Lulu’s, boats float towards The Wharf on the Waterway Village with lights on. The parade can be viewed along the canal from Gulf Shores or Orange Beach. The boaters decorate the sails and hulls with colorful lights and illuminated figures that glide by in the dark. The celebrations begin at dusk.