Holiday Nights, Merry and Bright

Holiday Nights, Merry and Bright

April may be the cruelest month, but December, the darkest, can feel unkind, too. New York, however, offers its own illumination during these long, blustery nights, and not just Rockefeller Center’s seasonal sparkle. Here’s a guide to some of the lavish light displays across the city, including twinkling and towering sculptures, Chinese-style lantern shows and giant menorahs. You will usually find food, entertainment and family activities here, as well as glowing LED artifice: fairy palaces, alluring sweets, roaring dinosaurs — and lots of pandas.

RanDalls Island Park

Imagine waking up inside an anime cartoon. LuminoCity, a 16-acre extravaganza, even has its own hero from another universe: Lumi, a magical light bulb. Resembling a benevolent Pokémon, Lumi appears — in lantern form — throughout the displays, offering amazed commentary in recorded, childlike narration. You (and he) explore the exhibits, which Xiaoyi Chen, LuminoCity’s founder, has patterned after the lantern festival in Zigong, China.

Sculpted in steel and covered in satin, LuminoCity’s enormous lanterns occupy environments like the Winter Fantasy, which includes Santa’s sleigh and a towering castle. The Wild Adventure features dinosaurs, as well as a miniature Bifengxia Panda Reserve. My favorite display was in the Sweet Dream environment: a giant waving cat — a symbol of good luck — surrounded by 12 smaller ones representing real feline Instagram stars. LuminoCity also offers performances, themed nights, a heated marketplace and shuttle bus service to and from 125th Street and Third Avenue in Manhattan. (But if you book the bus, wait on the street and not — as I did — on the avenue.) Through Jan. 5;

The most dazzling animals I encountered here had no need of LED technology: They were Owlexandria, a fierce-looking spectacled owl, and Quincy, a resplendent Eurasian eagle owl, whose handler allows evening visitors to pose with them for pictures. Almost all other creatures at the after-hours Holiday Lights show, however, are luminescent creations, often accompanied by vivid wildlife sounds. Outlined in glittering lights, some appear to move or fly as a result of the sequenced illumination of different silhouettes. Others, like those along the Animal Lantern Safari trail — you enter through a sculptured shark’s belly — are silk-and-steel models whose wings or heads may subtly shift. (I especially enjoyed the lemurs in the trees.)

The zoo, which has revived Holiday Lights for the first time since 2007, also features roaming carolers, ice-carving demonstrations and a Christmas tree that’s a light show in itself. On Friday the zoo begins a festival within the festival: Ice Jubilee, which includes an ice throne, a 20-foot ice slide and, for adults weary of holiday shopping, an ice bar. Through Jan. 5; 718-220-5100,


Dreaming of a tropical Christmas? Nestled among the palm trees in the airy Winter Garden at Brookfield Place, this light installation is entirely indoors. Designed by the LAB at Rockwell Group, the display consists of 647 acrylic LED lanterns in sherbet hues, suspended from the complex’s ceiling in a Mondrian-like grid. Every hour on the hour, shoppers and diners can watch digitally programmed light shows. The lanterns change color and intensity in dizzying patterns, while a seasonal soundtrack plays. But the installation’s greatest connection to the holidays is its three wishing stations. Touch one, and your “wish” initiates a miniature light show overhead. This artificial magic does real-world good: For every wish, Brookfield Place will donate $1, up to a total of $25,000, to Cookies for Kids’ Cancer, a national research nonprofit. Through Jan. 3; 212-978-1673,

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