Let there be lights. And night. In winter, Bellingrath Gardens and Home in Theodore, Alabama, explodes with excitement and unexpected grandeur. Bright shapes emerge from the backdrop of skies that darken before dinner. It's a perfect time to go, when illumination meets imagination.
Bellingrath's annual Magic Christmas in Lights is a walkable art form. Holiday flowers, including various types of poinsettias, dot the grounds. The comfortable temperatures of South Alabama allow for this unusual floral treat. Yet this may be the only time you forget to look at the gardens themselves.
"You arrive, leaving the outside world where you're barraged with elements," says Clare Graham, former senior managing art director at Disneyland, who designed the 605 set pieces strewn with 3 million lights. "Our progression tells a story of Bellingrath and the season." Major scenes include Butterflies in Flight, Peace on Earth, Cajun Christmas, Toyland, and The Night Before Christmas (with readings of the poem). The Bellingrath home itself, dating to 1935, provides yet another delight, decorated as if for a festive soiree.
Spinning the magic―finely wrought doves, brilliant lotus blossoms, illuminated snowflakes in the live oaks―Bellingrath holds to its mission. It's a must for your Christmas to-do list.
Here's what you need to know to go; the feeling of joy comes for free.
• Bellingrath Gardens and Home is located at 12401 Bellingrath Gardens Road in Theodore, Alabama (20 miles from downtown Mobile); for more information visit www.bellingrath.org, or call (251) 973-2217. Admission for the Magic Christmas in Lights: $10 adults, $5.50 ages 5-11. You can visit early in the day and return for the light display on the same ticket. There is also a guided home tour available on every hour and half hour until 8 p.m. Tickets for both the lights and home tour are $18 adults, $11 ages 5-11.
• Magic Christmas in Lights is open 5-9 p.m. from the day after Thanksgiving through New Year's Eve (check the daily paper for sunset time). Home and gardens hours are 8 a.m.-9 p.m. (closed Christmas Day).
• Local entertainment takes place nightly on The South Terrace. Have lunch or dinner in the Magnolia Café (11 a.m.-3 p.m., 4-8 p.m.). The gift shop is open 10 a.m.-9 p.m.
• Magic Christmas in Lights hotel packages are available at The Battle House, A Renaissance Hotel in Mobile; Renaissance Riverview Plaza Hotel (also in Mobile); and the Grand Hotel Marriott Resort Golf Club & Spa (in nearby Point Clear). For more information on these hotels or to make a reservation, visit www.marriott.com, or call 1-888-236-2427.
A NOTE TO OUR READERS:
"Delight of Lights" is from the Home for the Holidays 2007 issue of Southern Living. Because prices, dates, and other specifics are subject to change, please check all information to make sure it's still current before making your travel plans.