The Great Recession dimmed Austin’s beloved Trail of Lights for two years. But this year the electric extravaganza, an Austin tradition since 1965, returned, and so last night we braved traffic (I witnessed a bang-up fender bender on MoPac on the way downtown) and hordes of our fellow Austinites to walk the loop through Zilker Park.
What I love about the Trail of Lights is that it’s the perfect mix of corny and endearing.
The displays are dated, with a bizarre mix of dinosaurs, the Peanuts gang, pop-culture elves, nativity scenes, and even Greek gods, set up at intervals along the trail, with piped-in Christmas carols playing from hidden speakers.
But standing like majestic, otherworldly creatures among this cultural mishmash are the naked trees of Zilker Park, ancient pecans mostly, each one picked out of the darkness with brightly colored bulbs. They are stunning.
When you’re young you go with packs of friends and sing at the top of your lungs as you walk back to the car afterward. When you have small children, you carry them on your shoulders to see above the throngs and point out their favorite characters among the displays. When you’re older and your children are jaded teenagers, you drag them along and bribe them with funnel cake and point out your favorite trees in the park.
But of course the best tree in Austin at Christmastime is the Zilker Tree, a 155-ft. light tower strung with colored lights in a crisscrossing spiral pattern.
Lit from early December until the stroke of the New Year, the Zilker Tree attracts Austinites of all ages to congregate under the lights, clasp hands with each other, look up at the spiral of lights, and SPIN.
You can’t help but smile and shriek as you spin. You try not to crash into other spinners, and when you let go you stagger drunkenly with dizziness.
Wheee! It’s a joyful tradition, silly and fun, and you feel goodwill toward your fellow spinners.
Wherever you’re spending Christmas this year, I hope you enjoy a little Austin holiday cheer, from me to you!
All material © 2006-2012 by Pam Penick for Digging. Unauthorized reproduction prohibited.