Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Christmas in Austin, Texas

Like most towns during the holiday season, Austin brings out their festive lights. However, there are two areas in town known for displaying an awesome array of lights- 37th Street, and the Trail of Lights in Zilker Park.

Starting back in the early 80s, neighbors on 37th Street in Hyde Park came together to create a completely unique Christmas light experience that is creative, wacky, and fun- what today would be deemed as, "Keeping Austin Weird." Resident Jamie Lipman began wildly decorating his home, and his neighbors followed suit. Discarded motorcycles have been wrapped in hundreds of lights, bushes were sculpted into automobiles (including headlights), BBQ cookout scenes were created, and several strands of lights crisscrossed the street. From the rooftop of one house, massive amounts of lights were strung, and every 5 minutes a volcano "erupted" with a cloud of smoke, and the lights turned red, mimicking lava pouring down a mountain. Lipman would go all out, decorating his front and backyard, with thousands of lights, and covering his home in black plastic to have his homemade creations show up better and brighter.

Though the street has gained national attention for its creativity, it has gone through many changes in recent years. Old residents have moved out, and a new crowd moved in. Even Lipman himself moved from 37th Street last year, though he has offered to come back and help set up his famous lights. Time will tell if the new neighbors will keep the spirit of 37th Street alive.

Boasting 300,000 lights, The Trail of Lights is put on by the city of Austin, and grows bigger every year. The Trail of Lights was originally named "Yule Fest" in 1965, and is a one mile strip of static and moving displays located in Zilker Park. "The 12 Days of Christmas" display was the first created, and still holds a prominent position at the beginning of the trail. Many of the beautiful craggy oak trees have brightly colored lights from the bottom of their trunks to the tips of their highest branches. Along with the 43 lighted displays, shops selling trinkets, hot food and apple cider dot the trail. A variety of local dance troupes perform on the entertainment stage, Santa holds court for a throng of youngsters, and a massive Yule log burns night after night.

For most visitors to the Trail of Lights, their trip begins or ends at the Zilker Tree. Located just south of the trail, the Zilker Tree stands 155 feet tall, and is not really a tree at all, but one of Austin's original moonlight towers. The towers were erected in 1894 as the city's first illumination system, and 17 of the original 31 still stand. The tree hosts 3,309 lights, and children and adults alike can be found underneath the tree with their heads up staring at the lights, and spinning in circles until they crash to the ground. This year's tree lighting ceremony will be held on December 2nd at 6pm, with the Trail of Lights open evenings through December 31st.

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