There is something magical about wandering around the lighted paths of the Elizabethan Gardens at the winter solstice. The wind whipping off the sound is brisk but bundled up in two or three layers of sweaters and jackets, it’s tolerable—almost comfortable.
And, of course, there is always the fire pit and free marshmallows for roasting in the middle of the Great Lawn. Next to the fire pit, a large screen is playing Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer—the TV version from the 1960s.
The marshmallows, fire pit and continual showing of Rudolph are just some of the features that make Winter Lights at the Elizabethan Gardens so perfect for families.
It is not, however, just families that stroll the paths of the gardens during the holiday season.
Certainly, the kids are the ones with all the energy, calling out their delight as each bend or turn in a path brings some new discovery, some new way to use lights that is as beautiful as it is surprising. The adults are maybe more subdued in their reactions, but the delight in finding a hidden gem of illumination against the backdrop of the longest night of the year is still very much a part of the experience.
The holiday season is very much a time of tradition, and Winter Lights is close to the top of the list of Outer Banks traditions that make the season so special.
Step through the doors of the gatehouse and into the garden and the magic begins at once. Thousands of twinkling blue-white lights illuminate of what is usually the seasonal flower beds that bloom year round. The path leads to the statue of Queen Elizabeth I, but along the way, far up into the branches of the trees, LED lights sparkle like multi-colored stars.
The lighting on the statuary in the Garden is wonderful. Virginia Dare, framed by the lights of a live oak takes on a beautiful green hue and a different beauty.
The imagination that goes into creating the displays is remarkable. The main path follows the perimeter of the Gardens and along the way, there are two heron ponds, the herons and ponds illuminated in a beautiful cobalt blue. Along the edge, suggesting a shoreline, lights glow with a light tan or sand color.
The 12 days of Christmas are marked in a display along the paths, and there is a tunnel of light that looks like every color of Christmas light ever created.
Inevitably, though, everyone finds their way to the Great Lawn and the fire pit…where parents seem to invariably roast at least a half-dozen marshmallows explaining to their children how to perfectly char the sugary treat for maximum flavor.
The Elizabethan Winter Lights begins every year with the Grand Illumination, a celebration of community featuring local schools, kids, churches and community groups on the Saturday after Thanksgiving. Over the years, the dates Winter Lights remains open have been extended. This year Winter Lights will run through January 19. Nighttime hours for the Elizabethan Gardens are 6:00-9:00 p.m. Closed Monday and Tuesday evenings.