Just because our Observer staff's hearts are made of artificial ice doesn't mean we're immune to the hypnotic power of glowing things. Our brains are pretty primitive in that regard, among others. Bright stuff is awesome, and you better believe we'll stare at it, unquestioning, for hours at a time, or until the Cheetos run out. Since the roads have been liberated, we thought we'd take a look at the best spots to drive, walk and say, "Dude, look at those lights."
McKinney Christmas (7805 White Stallion Trail, McKinney; Highway 121 and Alma Road) by the Ahnemann family (Above) Your family is so boring compared with the Ahnemanns. This McKinney clan has been elaborately lighting up their home to music since 2007, and they've done it with the mission to raise loads of donations for Toys for Tots. Because of this year's weather messiness, donations are much lower than expected. The Ahnemanns raised 1,028 toys in 2012 and this year they're only at 80. Guys, now's the time to hop in and do a thing: There are only two nights left to collect several hundred holiday gifts, so visit this display of 70,000 lights through Thursday to make a donation.
They've got snow machines set up, a radio station so you can listen to in your car and bigger hearts than we knew existed. Toys should be new and unwrapped and appropriate for ages 0-15 years. Visit McKinney Christmas on Sundays through Thursdays from 6 to 10 p.m., and from 6 p.m. to midnight on Friday and Saturday. (The snow machine shuts down at 10 p.m.) It's free and runs through the first week of January. They've got a Facebook.
Prairie Lights (Grand Prairie) Yep, the website for this one is a bit ... jarring, but word on Candy Cane Lane is that it's two miles worth of seasonal exploration, and deep in the inner sanctum you'll find a saccharine netherworld of Santa and carnival rides. Those goodies are included with your admission, so ride until you barf schnaps. Bring your friends, if only to save on entry, which runs $20 per carload for up to eight people. There are walk-through displays as well, so if you don't dig being cooped up, try the foot paths. Approximately 4 million lights are used to fill out Prairie Lights, so bring sunglasses.
Chinese Lantern Festival (Fair Park) While not a standard American tradition, the Chinese Lantern Festival has become a new holiday favorite. It solves so many problems by having plenty of places to dip in and out, so you can ditch family members and get well-deserved moments of solace. Plus, that giant dragon boat is the bomb and assuming your date likes screaming dinosaurs, the layout is romantic. And best of all, your time at the Lantern Festival isn't clocked, so stay until the brownies wear off, then call Lyft. Get your light money's worth.
Vitruvian Lights (Addison) This LED wonderland is a whole to-do, with more than 200 trees given the holiday gussy-up treatment and special events filling out the weekend programming, it's a good place to be a cheapskate. There's no admission fee and free parking, on-site holiday shopping and plenty of opportunities to photobomb Santa. The big nights this month are Saturday, December 14, and Saturday, December 21: Each features visits by weirdo seasonal mascots like teddy bears, mice, snowmen or reindeer; a nerve-wracking elf balloon artist (it's cool, he's a pro); and pictures with the Big Guy. On the 14th you get music from the Dallas String Quartet and on the 21st you'll hear the Chris Rivers Band. But if you just want to stroll the 12-acre park without all that fuss, Vitruvian Lights is open nightly through January 1.
Interlochen Christmas Lights (Arlington) You know how every city has that one, plucky neighborhood with more holiday spirit than the rest? Well this Arlington enclave puts all competing homeowners associations to shame by raising the standard for communal decorating. Not only that, but they've done it now for more than 35 years. That's huge. More than 200 houses get dressed up for this bumper-to-bumper, drive-through event, which opens this Friday night, December 14, and runs through December 25. It's free, and the neighborhood is so organized they've even made this handy map. It'll be packed, so allow several hours for the visit. Here's a terrible video.
Holiday in the Park at Six Flags Campfires, cocoa, holiday shows, sledding, Santa Land, Santa Claus, plus all of your favorite skull-shattering rides -- what's not to like? Yeah, I know: It's expensive. But here's a pro tip: If you're planning on getting a 2014 season pass anyway, you can apply your Holiday in the Park entry to it, getting you both for $64.99. You'll probably want to do that, since there's a food vendor there called "All Fried Creations," who's selling limited-edition deep-fried holiday cookie dough. Go put that in your mouth, then puke it back up into a bed of fake snow. It runs through January 6.
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Highland Park, Like Whoa You know you've made it if your neighborhood rents horse-drawn carriages. Mine doesn't yet offer that service, but we do have roaming packs of wild dogs -- and while that's not a season-specific project, they really do get you moving. Meanwhile, in the nice part of town, the luxury homes of Highland Park just get extra flashy with their professionally installed lighting displays. Ahh, the good life. It's free, runs through New Year's Eve and is best viewed within these borders: Mockingbird Lane to the north, the Dallas North Tollway to the west, Armstrong Parkway to the south and Preston Road to the east.
Texas Gift of Lights at the Motor Speedway This is always a biggie, with the Speedway tricked out with more than 600 brilliant LED displays. This year Gift of Lights gets a little more interactive with loads and loads of snow. Yup, they're making it on-site, so you can go sledding, pelt your buddy with a snowball or construct some impermanent art sculptures. It's open nightly through January 4, and it's cheapest on weeknights, at $15 per carload ($13 if bought online). Once you hit prime time -- Fridays, Saturday, Sundays and holidays -- the price goes up a skosh to $20 at the gate and $18 online.