When my wife and I moved to Atlanta from Washington, D.C., we figured we would be missing out on the light shows and Christmas charm of our nation's capital. After all, snow doesn't come to mind when you think of the South. But the Christmas sites surrounding Atlanta changed our minds as sure as Christmas ghosts converted Scrooge.
The first Atlanta-area holiday tradition can be found about an hour southwest of the Georgia capital, down Interstate 85 then down Interstate 185. There, you'll find 8 million lights and more at Callaway Gardens' "Fantasy in Lights," cited as one of the top 10 Christmas places to visit by National Geographic's Traveler publication.
Attendees have their choice of driving their vehicle through the park or taking the tram. More than a dozen scenes of lights and music await both the young and young at heart in a tradition dating back 20 years. But there's more than a bunch of bulbs here. On the site, there's a Christmas Village with plenty of future presents for sale and a lighted Nativity display and story on the beach by the lake.
Speaking of lakes, there's the second Atlanta Christmas treasure: Lake Lanier. There, you can find the "Magical Night of Lights," another idea nearly two decades in the making. Groups can take cars, vans, and buses. Nearly 8 miles of light shows brighten the night. When not driving and being dazzled, patrons can ride the rides and ponies, knock a few items off the Christmas list at the Holiday Village, and see Santa Claus. It's northeast of Atlanta, closer than Callaway Gardens, among rivers and the Blue Ridge Mountains.
If it's mountains you want, head east of Atlanta on Highway 78 to Stone Mountain Park. There's a "Singalong Christmas Train" that tells the story of the first of its kind, the 4D Polar Express Experience based upon the holiday movie, a Christmas parade with Santa Claus, a comedic 30-minute reenactment of "A Christmas Carol" by Charles Dickens, and a similar show with Christmas carols to sing.
Finally, if you want to take some of it home with you, stop by M.C. Twinklin's Christmas store for trees and more east of Atlanta. Not only can you get your tree, gifts, and holiday trimmings here, but the elves will also teach you how to decorate.
There's no need to wait until December in Atlanta for all of these holiday traditions, either. These locations open in mid-November. These events do cost money, so save up and check out discount days or coupon options. Pack the kiddies in the family car, pick up the relatives, and start Christmas early this year!
John A. Tures is an associate professor of political science at LaGrange College in LaGrange, Georgia.