While our American Christmas is a complex mixture of traditions from all over the world, there is one that was grown out of our own soil: electric Christmas lights.
It started when Edward H. Johnson, a friend and business partner of Thomas Edison, put a string of 80 hand-wired red, white and blue electric lights on a Christmas tree in 1882.
Since the majority of Americans didn’t have access to electric power until the 1930s, it took about 50 years for Johnson’s creation to become popular.
Since then, it’s become an essential part of American Christmas celebrations. As a salute to Mr. Johnson’s bright idea here are five fabulous Christmas display to visit if you will be traveling our great nation this holiday season.
Las Vegas Motor Speedway (Las Vegas)
The Las Vegas Motor Speedway hosts Glittering Lights, a 2.5-mile circuit that gives car-bound visitors the opportunity to see more than 400 animated displays.
For the upcoming holiday season, up to 30,000 vehicles are expected to make the circuit.
Smithsonian’s National Zoo (Washington, D.C.)
During the holidays, the nation’s capital is home to a unique event that manages to combine sparkling Christmas light displays with animals that prefer the dark.
Zoolights turns Smithsonian’s National Zoo into a 500,000-LED-light winter wonderland.
At this free event, families can take a spin on the solar-powered Speedwell Conservation Carousel, which features custom-carved figures of 58 species of animals, including a clouded leopard and a sloth bear.
The zoo’s Small Mammal House, Great Ape House and Reptile Discovery Center are open, so visitors can warm up and see some of the zoo’s nocturnal animals.
Silver Dollar City (Branson, Missouri)
The theme park is a celebration of Ozark Mountains culture and, for more than two decades, host to An Old Time Christmas festival.
With more than 5 million lights and 1,000 decorated trees, along with nightly parades and two musical productions, An Old Time Christmas is home to the 5-Story Special Effects Christmas Tree that features 350,000 LED lights and, synchronized with Christmas music, can make up to 100 light changes per second.
Macy’s at Center City (Philadelphia)
Macy’s (formerly Wanamaker’s) Christmas Light Show has a Magic Christmas Tree and more than 100,000 LEDs arranged behind a four-story velvet curtain that tell a story with reindeer, toy soldiers and ballerinas.
At the end of the show, the 287-ton Wanamaker Organ, the largest operational pipe organ in the world, plays “O Tannenbaum.”
Julie Andrews is the narrator of the light show, though it was formerly narrated by baritone John Facenda, known as the “Voice of God” from NFL Films.
Santa Claus House (North Pole, Alaska)
North Pole, Alaska’s, name comes from an attempt to convince a toy company to move to town.
The toymaker never materialized, but residents of this Fairbanks suburb did embrace the Christmas spirit and for the last eight years have hosted the six-week Christmas on Ice festival that combines festive Christmas lights with intricately carved ice sculptures.
And despite the fact that this is Alaska in winter, there are outdoor activities for kids, including ice slides and massive ice bowl “twirlers” where kids can sit and be spun until the colorful lights become a nauseating blur.