The chill is in the air and the lights are about to be turned on at the region's big Christmas light displays.
As homeowners prepare to string up countless lights across their windows and sashes, we have a handful of Christmas light displays that are destinations and traditions for thousands around here. If I had some advice for light goers, get there on the early side or the late side to avoid the crowds.
Here's when they open:
Meadow Lights, 4546 Godwin Lake Rd., just outside of Benson, open Friday for the 2016 Christmas season. The show, which started more than 40 years ago, stretches across 30 acres with colorful lights and the story of Jesus' life complete with 20 custom mannequins in six different scenes. Admission is free. The lights are visible from the road, but you can take a train ride through more than 10 acres of the property for a better view. There's also a carousel. Tickets for the train and carousel are $2 each. Santa is there nightly through Dec. 24 for Christmas lists and photos. Pictures with Santa are $6. Personal cameras are not allowed for those Santa photos. Concessions are available. There's also a candy store with a huge selection of treats. Hours are 5 p.m. to 10 p.m., Sunday through Thursday, and 5 p.m. to 11 p.m., Friday and Saturday.
Lake Myra Christmas Lights will start its 2016 show at 6 p.m., Nov. 23, at 10 S. Cypress St., in Wendell. Admission is free for this display, which is best viewed in a lawn chair that you bring from home. The show runs around 30 minutes or so and include lights synchronized to music and more. This year, nearly 400,000 twinkling lights will be part of the display. The light displays runs through Dec. 31. Hours are 6 p.m. to 10 p.m., Sunday through Thursday, and 6 p.m. to 11 p.m., Friday and Saturday.
Hill Ridge Farms in Youngsville opens its Festival of Lights on Nov. 24, Thanksgiving night. The event, open seven nights a week through Dec. 31, includes a covered wagon ride through the farm, which is transformed with thousands of lights. There also are bonfires; train rides; the giant slide; an old fashioned candy store; and concessions including food at the Chuckwagon Grill, s'mores, hot chocolate and apple cider. Tickets are $10 for ages 2 to 64 and includes the hayride. Kids under 2 are free. Tickets for groups of 10 or more and seniors are $9. Train rides are an additional $3. Hours are 5 p.m. to 9 p.m., Sunday through Thursday, and 5 p.m. to 10 p.m., Friday and Saturday.
Lights on the Neuse, 1620 Loop Rd., Clayton, opens to the public Nov. 25 and runs on weekends and select weekdays through Dec. 24. You can take a 30-minute Christmas hayride to enjoy the lights and Christmas music; walk through a 3D Christmas house; visit with Santa; and treat yourself to some candy, hot chocolate, coffee, kettle corn and s'mores, which you can buy there and make in the picnic area. In the Sugar Barn, visitors can choose and buy cookies to decorate. Tickets are $9 for ages 3 and up. It's free to sit with Santa and chat. Pictures are $8 (or you can take up to three pictures per family).
The Chinese Lantern Festival returns for a second year at Koka Booth Amphitheatre in Cary. It opens Nov. 25 and runs until Jan. 15. The festival will include more than 20 new displays, each one comprised of hundreds of parts and thousands of LED lights. This was beautiful last year. I'm excited to return! Tickets are $10 for ages 3 to 17 and $15 for ages 18 and up.
Piper's Lights, a homegrown display that's turned into a destination, will open Nov. 24, Thanksgiving evening. Hours are 5:30 p.m. to 9 p.m., Sunday through Thursday, and 5:30 p.m. to 10:30 p.m., Friday and Saturday. The display, which features more than 1 million lights, will be open until after Christmas. Visitors can drive through the display or stop for a quick train ride and to buy concessions and candy from a small store. It's free to see the lights and take the train ride (though donations are appreciated). The address is 5725 Fixit Shop Rd., Wake Forest (some websites list other addresses, but Glenda Leggett, whose family organizes the annual display, tells me this is the address you'll want to key into your GPS).
The Country Christmas Train in Denton starts up Nov. 25 and runs on select days through Dec. 27. Like Hill Ridge and Lights on the Neuse, this isn't just about the lights. The evenings include a lighted walking tour through the general store and grist mill to see arts and crafts; a church to hear the Christmas story and enjoy some carols; a visit with Santa; a ride on the so-called Handy Dandy Railroad to see a movie on the birth of Jesus; and lights around the park. There also are pony rides and hayrides through the lighted woods. Tickets are $13 to $15 for adults; $5 for kids under 11; and free for kids 4 and under. Denton is about two hours west of the Triangle.
Finally, Speedway Christmas at the Charlotte Motor Speedway returns for the seventh year with more than 3 million lights throughout a 3.5-mile course. Visitors can drive on the front stretch of the speedway to see synchronized lights set to music in the grandstand above. It's open Saturday and runs through Dec. 31. It's about 2.5 hours from Raleigh.