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The bright lights of Christmas

Christmas is here and finally we can relax and truly enjoy the holiday spirit with family and friends. For some, that will mean hosting an open house or perhaps a fun ugly sweater party. Others will want to chill with a holiday movie, cutout cookies and hot cocoa. For those seeking fresh air and a festive spirit, we have some ideas that are great for the entire family. They’re cheerful, merry and many will brighten your night.

Christmasville in Lancaster

Many adults will remember the tradition of going to downtown Buffalo to see the whimsical AM&A’s Department Store Christmas windows. You can enjoy them again this year in the Village of Lancaster, where 24 of the displays have had a new home since 2006. Peer in the store windows along Central Avenue between Broadway and Pleasant Avenue, where you will see the nostalgic mechanical holiday displays of Santa, elves and “The Night Before Christmas.”

The Festival of Lights at the Erie County Fairgrounds

5820 South Park Ave., Hamburg;

Pack up a carload and head to the Erie County Fairgrounds for the final weekend of the Festival of Lights. Drive through the nearly 2 miles of lights and see more than 60 illuminated displays. Then park the car and walk the illuminated street where you will be treated to holiday activities including the Nels Ross Variety Show. Let the kids ride the One Buffalo Express around the festival grounds. At the Tops Winterland Workshop, they can create a unique craft. And don’t miss the 100-plus trees in the Christmas Tree Forest.

Be sure to stop in the Family Entertainment Complex and marvel at the ice sculptures that were created in the Great Lakes International Ice Carving Competition held over Thanksgiving weekend. The temperature inside the “igloo” is a balmy 30 degrees to keep the sculptures in top form.

It’s all included in your carload admission of $25; $50 for buses. The festival continues from 5 to 9 p.m. Dec. 26 and 27; grounds remain open to 10 p.m.

The Festival of Lights at Our Lady of Fatima Shrine

1023 Swann Road, Youngstown;

Our Lady of Fatima Shrine hosts this free light display for all to see, but it is especially poignant for those seeking the peace, tranquility and the true meaning of the holidays.

Light displays have been created in the shapes of Mary, Joseph and the Baby Jesus, plus angels, doves, camels and more. There are about 75 displays featured in the 25th year of this holiday display. If you can, walk up the two flights of stairs to the top of the dome, where the 13-foot tall statue of Our Lady of Fatima overlooks the grounds. From there, the sight of the illuminated Rosary Pool and other displays is stunning. The lights are on from 5 to 9 p.m. through Jan. 6.

International Nativity Sets at SS. Columba-Brigid Church

75 Hickory St.

For about 30 years, the Rev. Roy T. Herberger has bought and collected Nativity sets from around the world and displayed them in SS. Columba-Brigid. The impressive and inspirational collection has grown to more than 560 Nativity sets from 55 countries. The last chance to see the Nativity display is from 1 to 4 p.m. Jan. 2-3. For special weekday group tours, call Father Roy at 852-2076.

Niagara Power Project Festival of Trees

5777 Lewiston Road, Lewiston (866) NYP-AFUN

Tell the kids you’re going to see a colorful tree display, then stick around and take in some of the exhibits and films. They’ll never realize you snuck in an educational trip, too.

Keeping in the spirit of the Power Vista, the trees use energy-efficient holiday lights. The walkway in the Power Vista’s observation deck is lined with artificial trees decorated by area nonprofit organizations. Afterward, get hands-on in the Electric Lab; watch various short films about electricity; and even learn about hybrid cars. The Festival of Trees is open 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. daily through Jan. 1. Admission and parking is free.

“Poinsettias … Expect the Unexpected” and Garden Railroad Exhibit at the Buffalo and Erie County Botanical Gardens

2655 South Park Ave.;

The Botanical Gardens is a special place in the winter, when you can enjoy the warmth and the lush gardens. It also blooms into a colorful holiday display including an annual poinsettia show. More than 1,400 poinsettias are now displayed in 10 greenhouses that are each decked out with a distinct snow globe theme. See the North Pole with reindeers and elves; a colorful display of the Mexican holiday Dia de Los Muertos; and a giant walk-in igloo. Kids will especially enjoy the miniature train displays through the greenhouses, including Harry Potter and Thomas the Train. Be sure to vote for your favorite greenhouse before you leave.

The festivities continue through Jan. 3. Take advantage of the special $1 admission on Dec. 27. Hours are 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. daily. Admission is $9 for adults, $8 for seniors (55+), $8 for students (13+ with ID), $5 for kids 3-12.

Ontario Winter Festival of Lights

Across the border, the Ontario Power Generation Winter Festival of Lights in Niagara Falls, Ont., is a dazzling display of more than 3 million sparkling lights along the Niagara Parkway. Start your journey at the foot of Clifton Hill. The display continues through Jan. 31. A special fireworks show over the falls is at 9 p.m. Dec. 26.

The festival also includes the Victoria Avenue Laser Light Show on the Victoria Avenue Promenade with 15-minute shows at 6:30 and 8:30 p.m. through Dec. 30.

Yuletide Tours at Graycliff Estate

6472 Old Lake Shore Road, Derby;

Frank Lloyd Wright’s Graycliff Estate is a visually impressive sight any time of year. Through Dec. 30, you can take a festive Yuletide Tour and see the estate tastefully decorated for the holidays.

“The holiday decor does not in any way obscure the architecture. We are very careful about that,” said Reine Hauser, executive director of Graycliff.

After the tour, enjoy a free hot chocolate and peruse the gift shop, where you’ll find Frank Lloyd Wright and arts and craft-inspired home decor, apparel and other items. Tours are offered as a basic one-hour tour and an in-depth two-hour tour. Call 947-9217 for reservations.


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