May your nights be merry and bright! Holiday lights in The Natural State

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The Bentonville square, all aglow.

The twinkling of holiday lights is more than ever a joy to behold at the end of a year when so many other normal pleasures have been dimmed.

Benton, in its Christmas best.

Happily, most of the Christmas-lights extravaganzas that excite so many Arkansans each December are going with the glow again. Their routines may have been adjusted due to the pandemic, but the shows are still happening. And hallelujah for that!

“The Arkansas Trail of Holiday Lights has been an annual tradition for countless Arkansas families for 25 years,” says Leah DiPietro, communications director for the Division of Arkansas Tourism, part of the Arkansas Department of Parks, Heritage and Tourism. “It has returned this year with communities all across the state taking part. 

“Obviously, the holidays are a bit different this year,” she says. “But viewing outdoor lights in wide-open spaces is a perfect activity for social distancing. It brings out the feeling of community spirit while also staying safe when celebrating the season.”

Here is a sampler of popular locations. There are admission fees except where indicated. For information about other stops on the Arkansas Trail of Holiday Lights, visit arkansas.com/trailofholidaylights.

Outside Blytheville, Lights of the Delta will shine through Dec. 27.

  • Just outside Blytheville, Lights of the Delta is operating through Dec. 27, aiming according to its website “to bring some sense of normalcy back to our holiday celebrations.” Like most other viewing locations, it is closed on Dec. 25. The 1.5-mile drive-thru route on the former Eaker Air Force Base three miles northwest of the city touts itself as “the Mid-South’s largest lighting display.” The number of lights is said to total 6 million or more. For details, visit lightsofthedelta.com or call (870) 762-9788.
  • Pine Bluff/Jefferson County Regional Park, at U.S. 65-B and Convention Center Drive, is the venue for a 1.3-mile drive to enjoy the Enchanted Land of Lights and Legends. This attraction qualifies as a top value, given that admission is free to see the more than 240 displays, some of them animated. Its last evening is Dec. 31. For more information, call 870-536-7600.
  • Admission is also free at Sherwood’s Enchanted Forest Trail of Holiday Lights. Even sweeter, a candy cane is given to everyone who arrives. Visitors are encouraged to donate nonperishable items to local food pantries.  Open until Dec. 30, this drive-thru trail extends for more than a mile, with the entrance at Sherwood Sports Complex, 511 Bear Paw Road. Visit cityofsherwood.net or call 501-835-5319.

    Visit the Eiffel Tower closer to home this Christmas with a trip to Paris, Arkansas.

  • The Eiffel Tower is lighted in the Logan County town of Paris. The mini copy of the skyscraping French original stands 25 feet tall and is enhanced by a two-tier water fountain. In surrounding downtown streets, Paris’ seasonal sights through year’s end include more than 100,000 lights and 30 or so themed trees decorated by local clubs and other organizations. The displays are free to see. Visit parisarkansas.com or call 479-963-2244. 
  • Derricks and other drilling gear provide the setting for Christmas lights in Oil Field Park at Arkansas Museum of Natural Resources in Smackover. Lighted tableaux with photo opportunities are laid out on a walking circuit about a quarter of a mile long. Gingerbread Land is a crowd favorite.

    Merrymaking in Magnolia.

Unlike most other displays of lights, this state-park tour is open only on Fridays and Saturdays. It ends on Dec. 19. Visit arkansasstateparks.com or call 870-725-2877.

  • There is one major change in holiday programming at Garvan Woodland Gardens, which has shifted its perennially thronged event to daylight hours.

 “We are presenting an all-new daytime winter garden festival in 2020,” according to Bob Bledsoe, executive director of the sylvan attraction at 550 Arkridge Road, Hot Springs. “Our goal is to provide a venue in which families could celebrate the winter holiday season with us just as in past years, yet in much safer circumstances.”

Some new displays do contain lights, according to Bledsoe. But 2020’s focus “is on families making memories in a daytime winter garden with attractive seasonal displays at popular spots along the trail.”  

The shift in hours allows opening of areas closed after dark in previous years, including the Evans Children’s Adventure Center and its treehouse, the Hixson Nature Preserve and the Perry Wildflower Overlook. Garvan’s new event continues through Dec. 31. For more details, including admission prices, visit garvangardens.org or call 501-262-9300.

North Forest Lights at Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art can provide holiday family fun.

  • One popular show of lights — though not Christmas-themed — is extending its magic well beyond the year-end holidays. North Forest Lights at Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art in Bentonville continues all the way through April 4. Arkansas’ premier museum promises “an enchanted nighttime walk through the woods featuring dynamic, nature-inspired lighting elements and immersive soundscapes.”

Five outdoor installations aim to “bring the soul of the forest to life with light, sound and sensory effects in a captivating, family-friendly experience.” The installations’ alluring names include: Crystal Grove, Forest Frequencies, The Hearth, Whispering Tree and Memory of Water. COVID-19 precautions include the limiting of capacity, so advance ticket purchase is strongly encouraged. Visit crystalbridges.org or call 479-418-5700.

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