By: Holly KaysA 40-minute car ride can be incredibly long for a 9-year-old kid, but as soon as we round the corner to the parking lot of the N.C. Arboretum, Emily is enchanted.
It’s the first day of the arboretum’s annual Winter Lights show, and the trees topping the parking lot’s berms are wound with lights in a rainbow of colors, a taste of the wonders to come once we enter the gardens.
Emily, who I’ve got the privilege of hanging out with through the Big Brothers Big Sisters program, oohs and ahhs as we explore walking paths lined with lit-up gumdrops and encounter a quilt garden and 50-foot tree whose lights change and dance in time with Christmas music playing through hidden speakers. She excitedly checks the paper map we received upon entrance to ensure we visit every numbered exhibit recorded there, racing down stone steps to get a closer look at the model train she’s spotted and barely containing her excitement as she gains control of a button that allows her to make the train’s horn blare.
I’ve been an adult for some time now, and at some point along the way, it seems, the magic of colored lights, festive music and frosty air began to fade, though I didn’t quite notice until given the chance to compare my plodding steps with the exuberance that is being 9 years old and outside in a chilly wintertime wonderland.
Luckily, enthusiasm is contagious, and I think I’ve got a case that will last well through Dec. 25.
Winter Lights is open daily from 6 to 10 p.m. through Dec. 31. Tickets are $18 for adults, $12 for kids 5-11 and free for children 4 and under. Discounts available for groups and arboretum members. Tickets must be reserved ahead of time at www.ncarboretum.org/exhibits-events/winter-lights.