Tripping the Lights Fantastic

Clark Griswold, the hapless fool played by Chevy Chase in National Lampoon's Christmas Vacation, is just a hair too familiar. Clark's house-lighting ceremony is a hilarious and well-targeted send-up of how real revelers attempt to best each other--in wattage--during the holidays. But it doesn't exactly warm the Yuletide spirit.

This year, want to skip the voltage wars entirely? Just leave it to the pros who put up the Valley's grand large-scale holiday light displays. A few options:

Tempe's Fantasy of Lights: This event, held in downtown Tempe, runs through Sunday, January 17, and includes such activities as Tempe's Fantasy on Ice, an outdoor ice rink that also offers open skating, a golf tournament and a kids activities-packed snow day where 15 tons of snow will "fall" on the streets of Tempe. Capping off the snow day on Saturday, December 12, is the "Light Up a Luminaria" walk up "A" Mountain. For more information, call 894-8158.

12 News Presents ZooLights: This year's event, bigger and better than last year's, of course, kicks off Sunday, December 6, from 6 to 10 p.m. and continues nightly through Sunday, January 10 (closed December 24), at the Phoenix Zoo. The full-time, year-round staff of light-hanging fanatics at the zoo has conjured up 100 new light features along with holiday music and costumed characters. As breathtaking as the zoo's light displays can be (zoo officials guesstimate this year's light count at about 1.2 million, with each tree having as many as 10,000 lights), the real fun lies in negotiating the zoo's familiar trails in the dark. 273-1341, extension 7810.

Las Noches de las Luminarias '98: The ever-classy Desert Botanical Garden celebrates its 21st annual brown-bag party through Saturday, December 5. Illuminating the garden paths are 7,400 luminarias, made from brown paper bags, sand and votive candles. Strollers are treated to live music and complimentary gourmet cookies with hot apple cider. Garden volunteers, in an amazing demonstration of efficiency, assemble the luminarias in just three hours, after which a team of 60 volunteers lights the candles in only 40 minutes. The garden expects as many as 3,500 guests per evening during the event and provides shuttle parking at Phoenix Municipal Stadium. Remember, earlier is better this time of year--this event sells out in a flash. Advanced ticket purchase required; call 754-8188 or 754-8189.

APS Electric Light Parade: In its 10th presentation, this parade in the dark makes its way down Central from Missouri to Thomas on Saturday, December 5, at 7 p.m. The parade boasts 90 floats with more than 50,000 lights along with a personal favorite, the lighted marching bands. High school kids hiding battery packs in their fezes, in this casual adaptation of the Fiesta Bowl Parade, enjoy themselves despite their tubas and French horns. The parade is preceded by the Electric Light Parade Holiday Run and Walk--contestants run/walk three miles, finishing in time to enjoy the parade. For info call 534-FEST (3378).

Glendale Glitters: Another APS-sponsored event, Glendale Glitters, runs nightly from 6 to 10 p.m. through Saturday, January 16. More than 500,000 multicolored lights decorate Murphy Park, Caitlin Court and Olde Towne Glendale in historic downtown. Special events run through January, with Glendale Glitter Enchanted Evenings every Thursday, Friday and Saturday, December 3 through 19. Missed the lighting ceremony in November? Why not march to a different beat and attend the Glendale Glitter & Glow "the night the lights go out," on Saturday, January 16, from 5 to 10 p.m.? Call the Glendale special events hot line at 930-2299 or visit this Web site:

Garden Grove Nurseries: This Phoenix landmark decorates its grounds with more than 2,000 sets of commercial holiday lights. (The nursery also sells the commercial lights, which are wired for durability.) Busloads of gawkers visit the nursery each season, which has been lighting up for more than 20 years. The piece de resistance is the huge saguaro cactus out front, glowing like an X-Files version of itself. Workers drape the prickly beast from atop a crane. The nursery, noted for selling live Christmas trees, stays lighted all night for passersby, but is only open for visitors and business until 10 p.m. 'til Christmas Eve. 14225 North Seventh Street; 943-7313 or 938-6666.

--Tricia Wasbotten Parker

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Tricia Wasbotten Parker