Lights of Joy on the Outer Banks of North Carolina: Beyond Sun, Surf, and Seafood

What sights come to mind when envisioning the Outer Banks of North Carolina? Sun, surf, and seafood are the obvious choices.  At this time of year, you can add Winter Lights at The Elizabethan Gardens in Manteo on Roanoke Island, North Carolina. For twenty-two days during late November, December, and early January, the gardens glow with sparkly holiday joy.

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WALKING AMONG THE WINTER LIGHTS

Queen Elizabeth I herself welcomes guests at the beginning of a leisurely walk through her namesake gardens.  Her roses are not in bloom at this time of year, but seasonal sights and sounds beckon you to take a walk of discovery.

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REMEMBERING THE LOST COLONY

You won’t be the first discovers here. Other displays of Elizabethan characters, including one with the Queen and Sir Walter Raleigh awashed in rose-colored light, remind visitors that these gardens are built on the historic site of the first English settlement in the New World. In 1584 Sir Walter Raleigh, as directed by Queen Elizabeth I, recruited 117 men, women, and children to establish this inaugural colony. By three years after their immigration, the colonists had inexplicably disappeared, thus earning the sobriquet, The Lost Colony. These gardens, which memorialize the brave colonists, were designed to be a “garden Elizabethan in spirit and style but adapted to the present.” Luckily, the Winter Lights celebration is a magical adaptation that transforms the gardens into a night-time wonderland.

FINDING SPARKLY CRITTERS

Wonders galore await along the paths that meander throughout the gardens.  Strollers can get up and personal with four-legged critters that don’t become skittish and run away.

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Their home, the dark forest, twinkles with red, white, and green fireflies birthed by lasers and brought to life on the trees’ bare branches.

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DISCOVERING THE TWELVE GIFTS

Suddenly, a famous bird appears on “The Twelve Days of Christmas” path, which plays homage to this popular holiday song. The partridge in the pear tree points the way to discover the next eleven days of exotic gifts. By the way, if this colorful display inspires you to give two turtle doves, three French hens, etc., you better have deep pockets. Cost? $34,130.99!

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SPYING GLOWING CREATURES

Other paths lead to fantastic creatures like lavender butterflies, whimsical crickets, and albino peacocks.

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TREKKING TO THE GINGERBREAD HOUSES

The trek down the Gingerbread House path offers a visual taste of the sweet side of the season with not a wicked witch in sight.

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DISCOVERING THE BOTANY IN THE BOTANICAL GARDEN

For a reminder that this venue is a botanical garden, there is a glistening topiary highlighting the flowering cabbage patch and an illuminated container of seasonal greens and flowers lighting the way to an event tent.

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PLAYING LIKE A KID

While the above two images will appeal mainly to adults, children and the child in all of us will discover kid-friendly activities on the Great Lawn area. Sit on bales of hay and watch the movie about a much-loved snowman and then roast marshmallows over the toasty fire pit, (marshmallows and graham crackers provided) while listening to local choirs singing songs of comfort and joy.

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Before the evening is over, stop by to visit Santa and whisper your secret Christmas wishes in his ear.

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On exiting through the gift shop, you don’t have to leave the sparkle behind. You also can purchase glittery presents to take home.

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DON’T DRIVE STRAIGHT HOME

Before departing Manteo, take a short drive to the waterfront and see the illuminated boats, including the ship, the Elizabeth II, a reproduction of one of the seven English merchant vessels that brought the ill-fated colonists to Roanoke Island.

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Photo by Bruce J. Holmes

If there are any doubts about finding Christmas joy on the Outer Banks of North Carolina, Fishing Santa reminds you otherwise.  Listen closely to hear him exclaim:  “Merry Christmas to all and to all a good Winter Nights!”

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