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Light it Up

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Every neighborhood has one, a house that’s so lit up with Christmas lights it looks like it may well be signaling the inhabitants of the Alpha Centauri system. People cruise the neighborhood just to get a glimpse of the spectacle. They stand on the sidewalk in front of the house, staring with watery, squinting eyes as they try to take it all in without doing permanent damage to their retains. Santa is always there somewhere in the display, accompanied by at least a couple of his reindeer. There’s always some sort of holiday message written out in bulbs next to a train with wheels made to look like they are actually moving.

And if you listen closely, you can hear the pitter patter of the electricity meter as the spinning dial actually breaks the sound barrier.

Everyone else’s homes look pale in comparison, despite calling the wreath-laden front door and single strand of white lights “simple elegance.” There’s no use competing. As soon as you start attempting Christmas light one-upmanship, you run the distinct risk of looking like Clark Griswold in National Lampoons Christmas Vacation.

Instead, leave the decorating to the pros and the obsessed. Each year the Idaho Botanical Gardens puts on one of the best displays in the Treasure Valley with Garden aGlow. The usually tranquil gardens are transformed into an ode to the incandescent light with more than 250,000 bulbs turning the area into a walk-through Light Bright.

Everything and anything in the gardens has the possibility of being decorated. If it’s a plant, it will have lights on it. Fences and railings? Yup, those, too, will be covered in lights. Even the gazebos, fountains and buildings will twinkle in the night (the old penitentiary walls are already lit by security lights, but it does add to the effect).

Since Thanksgiving, visitors have strolled the illuminated pathways, taking in the colorful displays and listening to live music performed mainly by area high school choirs.

Only recently have the nights begun to take on that biting chill that seems to drive to the core of your being, convincing you that your little outing might just cost you one of your extremities. Foreseeing the lawsuits that would be sure to come with frostbite and amputations, Botanical Garden staff lights bonfires in the center of the garden’s numerous courtyards. Visitors can run a holiday gauntlet, warming themselves by a fire, braving the next portion of the garden, thawing next to a fire and repeat.

If you get tired of spinning next to a bonfire trying to coax feeling back into both sides of your body, head for the refreshment tent. Inside, you’ll find hot chocolate, hot cider and cookies for sale. As a bonus, there are unusually large propane heaters as well, which attract chilly holiday revelers like mosquitoes to a bug zapper.

But even with chilled fingers and toes, there’s something undeniably attractive about the simple holiday celebration, where families can be found laughing together and posing for pictures with the overwhelming light displays.

Garden aGlow will be open to the public from 6-9 p.m., nightly through Jan. 3, including on Christmas, New Year’s Eve and New Year’s Day. Admission is $6 or $4 for Botanical Garden members.

For more information, check out the Web site at idahobotanicalgardens.org.