California has a reputation. It’s laid back, casual. Beachy. Of course, those of us in northern CA are not beachy, but tell someone that you’re from CA and immediately they say, “Oh, perpetual summer. Beaches. Bay Watch.” In fact, California’s reputation can lead some to think that whatever happens in CA is “lite.” But we can be a pretty serious lot. Take our holiday decorations, for example. No one in their right mind would want to miss the 1.5 mile winding drive through the Vasona Lake Park. Why? To totally immerse themselves in the very serious lights display. Just tune your radio to the special sounds of the holiday and then sit back and watch the animated story begin as you roll your way into fantasy-land. Experience the erupting volcano in the Dinosaur Den, Santa shooting hoops (a bit weird, we must admit), a pen of playful penguins, blazing cannons, tunnels of light, and a 90-foot winking, twinkling tree. What more could you want as the grand finale to the perfect holiday season with friends and family?
How did this simple tradition turn into such a big production? What happened? Perhaps we should credit the electrifying of Christmas to Thomas Edison, as the inventor of the lightbulb. Or perhaps the entire country of Germany, where decorating for the holidays supposedly originated. Or maybe even the court and whims of Queen Victoria herself (she could probably take the heat). They’ve all been implicated as possible instigators. It seems that over the last several centuries we’ve all become infatuated with those tiny electric light bulbs known as “twinkle, mini or fairy lights,” depending on where you live. In any case, they’re used the world around in religious cultures and have even become a secularized ritual for others, because, well—maybe we all want just a little “lightness” to rebalance our everyday lives. We’re not satisfied until we’ve turned the great outdoors into our own little make-believe fairy tale vignettes. Of course, in true California fashion, Vasona‘s display boasts the use of more LED lights as a way of “greening” the show.
So we decided to go see for ourselves what all the fuss was about. After 13 years in the neighborhood, the Vasona Lake festivities beckoned us: it was about time we ventured out to “see the light.” So on Sunday, Christmas night, the four of us boarded our fantasy touring-car (Honda Element) and drove the arduous 15 minute, non-snow-covered trail, to the park. The incredible line of cars alone told us we were in for a once-in-a-lifetime treat. The excitement was definitely building. Unfortunately, after idling in traffic for over 20 minutes, we came upon the sign stating that our destination was only a mere 45 minutes away. Given that we hadn’t allocated our entire evening to this surely-worthwhile event, (and the fact that we were dangerously low on gas) we decided to bail and try again after the Christmas hoopla had died down a bit.
We were so excited that we made it back into the never-ending line of cars the very next night, intending to tough it out no matter what. But since Christmas was officially over, within 30 minutes, we were inside the park, face-to-face (or bumper-to-bumper) with the spectacle. We all had a great time as we sang along with the old Christmas standards (thanks to 104.1 on the car radio) while snapping pics and videos from both sides of the car—hanging out of the windows when necessary for the perfect shot. There were also a few good belly laughs at Santa shooting hoops, which you might expect. That grand tour of the lights is something we probably won’t do again for 10 years or so, but without a doubt, we were glad to have done it once.
But the high”light” (We’re allowed at least one celebratory pun, right?) of the evening was undoubtably the rumbling volcano and the roaring dinosaurs section. Though not quite your everyday Christmas fare, it was fun, with some family members mimicking the roar of the dinosaurs long after the fun was over. This year in particular, northern California is enjoying a rather balmy winter. There’s not a hint or even the suggestion of snow, not even rain. The evening was perfect. We wagon-trained our way through the park and then were reminded to turn our headlights back on before venturing out into the “real world,” onto the “real road.” Living in the Bay Area is wonderful—lite, in some ways. The drive through Vasona Park’s Light Fantasy was definitely a reminder for us to remember to play a little, and stay light-hearted. Seriously, lighten up!!
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