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Christmas/Holiday: Brighten your Holidays with Thousands of Lights

Ever notice how lighting candles at the dinner table ends suppertime chaos? Kids who have been fighting over who gets to pour the milk or who got more croutons in their soup suddenly grow calm, quiet and almost mystical. At this most frenzied time of the year, it's only natural to take some needed time out to bask in the glow, even if it's electrically powered? Here's where you and yours can catch some seasonal brightness:

One of the most spectacular shinings on the Continent is the Winter Festival of Lights in Niagara Falls when both sides of the Niagara River go wild with electricity. Until mid-January, some 382,000 bulbs animate scenes from Disney movies (new this year is Pocahontas), light up trees in Queen Victoria Park and along the Parkway, bring to life giant animated downtown dinosaurs on the U.S. side, and reflect off the cascading waters of the Falls. Call 1-800-461-5373 for information on free family activities and concerts. We took our kids to Niagara Falls one New Year's Eve just after an ice storm. The city had turned into a spectacular, glimmering fairyland. There are loads of good lodging opportunities offering rooms overlooking the Falls. One possibility is The Sheraton Fallsview Hotel; their "Suresaver Holiday" rates start at $69 for cityview, $99 for Falls view. Kids under 18 stay free while kids under 12 get breakfast and dinner. Call 1-800-267-8439.

Holidays at the Hotel del Coronado near San Diego, California, have to be special because it was here, in 1904, that the first electric tree lighting took place (wired by Thomas Edison himself). Today, setting up the 7,700 white lights around the historic grande dame hotel takes weeks. Finally, on November 30, the giant tree in the lobby is lit and the holidays begin. Between December 14 and 29, the Grand Ballroom turns into a turn-of -the century holiday banquet room with dinner, theatre performances, carols and exhuberant dancing. Kids are invited to participate. Special bed-and-breakfast packages for families begin at $139 U.S. and include tennis, cycling, breakfast, and the use of a spa for the adults; kids can participate in children's activities or enjoy the 33 acres of prime white sand beach just in front of the hotel. Call 1-800-HOTEL-DEL.

Our own nation's capital turns on more than 160,000 bulbs for the festive season. The Christmas Lights Across Canada in Ottawa, now in its 11th year, glitters throughout the downtown core. An added bonus is that in this most northerly capital, you're almost guaranteed a scene of brilliance twinkling against snow. The Chateau Laurier is a good base to view the lights across Confederation Square and beyond. Their Winter Leisure rates start at $119 for a family of four and include a $20 restaurant coupon and a complimentary Beavertail pastry for each room. Call 1-800-441-1414.

There are other light-filled travel destinations, such as Hersheypark in Hershey, Pennsylvania where half a million lights light up the "Christmas Candylane" or the southern resort of Stouffer Pine Isle in Georgia, where coloured trees line the roads. Walt Disney World brightens this time of year with lasers, fireworks, and special lighting displays throughout its resorts and theme parks. In New York City, this year's 81-foot Norway spruce in Rockefeller Center is festooned with 25,000 lights; they glow until January from 5:45 a.m. until 11:30 p.m. except on Christmas Eve when they blaze all night. The world's largest menorah, the special candelabra lit during Chanukah, is also in New York City at the corner of 59th St. and Fifth Avenue. On December 24 at 5:30 p.m., the electric lighting of the candles will be accompanied by music and trays of potato pancakes.

But you don't have to travel so far to see such extravaganzas of light. Less than an hour away in Whitby, Ontario is Cullen Gardens & Miniature Village, which hosts its own annual Festival of Lights. Until January 7, kids can run around the village, inspecting the miniature trees and houses decorated for the season with thousands of colored lights. New for its 15th season are the motion light displays of a sleigh ride through the woods, an owl flying from tree to tree, and the miniature train that seems to puff smoke, and roll along. The Festival of Lights runs daily until 10 p.m. Call (905) 686-1600 (Toronto area) or (905) 668-6606 (Whitby) for information.





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