This year’s North Carolina Arboretum Winter Lights holiday show takes place in the form of a drive-thru experience from 5:30–10:30 p.m. (incoming gate closes at 10 p.m.) beginning Friday, November 20, and running through January 10. Guests are invited to ride in their own vehicles through a one-mile stretch of the Arboretum’s campus to see unique exhibits creating an enchanted forest covered in thousands of holiday lights.
“The new format pushed us to think creatively about large-scale elements,” says Arboretum guest experience manager Mary Rose Ridderbusch-Shearer. “In particular, I’m very excited to feature some Chinese-style lantern pieces which we are combining with other lighting techniques and styles to create designs that are unique to the show.”
Designed with an artistic aesthetic, this family-friendly event features many other beautifully lit displays and glowing landscapes nestled along the Arboretum’s woodland edge and garden areas. As part of the show’s redesign, visitors will see several new nature-themed vignettes, including winter wildlife, colorful butterflies and a giant daisy garden. Upon arrival, guests will select a special radio station featuring classic holiday tunes to accompany the show from inside their vehicle.
“The biggest challenge in designing Winter Lights 2020 was the scale of the great outdoors,” says the Arboretum’s senior director for mission delivery Clara Curtis. “For our ideas to be easily seen from guests’ car windows, they needed to be big, bright and bold.”
As the gardens’ largest fundraising event of the year, proceeds generated from Winter Lights will directly support the Arboretum’s programming. The central mission of the 434-acre public space, an affiliate institution of the University of North Carolina System, is to cultivate connections among people, plants and places.
“We are excited to uphold this annual holiday tradition for our community while protecting the safety and health of our staff and guests,” says the Arboretum’s executive director George Briggs. “We look forward to sharing this new experience and offering a different way of seeing the Arboretum.”
The North Carolina Arboretum is located off the Blue Ridge Parkway at milepost 393. Pre-sale admission to Winter Lights is $25 per personal vehicle and $30 at the gate the night of the event. Guests are strongly encouraged to purchase their tickets in advance at NCWinterLights.com to save on ticket fees and reserve their space. (Commercial vans and motor coaches will be charged a premium; please see website for details.) Arboretum Society members will receive $3 off their pre-sale tickets, and the Arboretum will offer discounted pricing every Tuesday (excluding December 22) and during the week of November 30–December 3.