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Tripping the light fantastic

Longwood Gardens and Herr Foods are pulling out all the stops to make the holidays merry and bright.

Few holiday traditions capture the magic of the Christmas season like walking or driving through a nighttime wonderland of trees adorned with twinkling lights in all shapes and colors.

Perhaps this is one reason why a Longwood Gardens Christmas draws a quarter of a million visitors every year, and thousands of people drive through the winter wonderland light show at Herr Foods in Nottingham.

At Longwood Gardens, 75 horticulturists and arborists spend 5,000 hours between Labor Day and Thanksgiving installing more than a half-million outdoor lights on 88 trees and 24 specialty displays.

If the lights were laid out end to end, they would cover a distance of 39 miles, according to Patricia Evans, Longwood Gardens' communications manager.

Seven days a week from dusk to 9 p.m., visitors can stroll alongside alternating red and green trees or under canopies of lighted snowflakes on their way to exhibits like the "Wildlife Tree" with its bird-friendly, edible ornaments, located outside the Pierce-DuPont House.

Nan and Ned Jackson, of Pennsbury, were admiring the lighted topiary and reindeer display with their 3-year-old granddaughter, Isabella. The Jacksons have been members of Longwood Gardens for two years and visit with one or more of their six grandchildren once a week.

"Longwood Gardens always does a great job with their children's attractions," Nan Jackson said.

Living up to such a reputation is no easy task for Longwood's senior gardener, Troy Sellers. "Our biggest challenge is coming up with something different for visitors, so they don't get the same experience every year," he said.

New exhibits include winterberry tree lights and longer-lasting, more energy-efficient LED icicle lights suspended over the stage in the Exhibition Hall, located in the East Conservatory. The icicle lights shine down on a reflecting pool surrounded by a dazzling array of poinsettias, amaryllis, begonias, cyclamen, paperwhites, and other floral holiday favorites.

After walking underneath an archway consisting entirely of blue lights, visitors are treated to an open-air, multicolored light and fountain show accompanied by holiday music, such as Mozart's "Sleigh Ride" and the Christmas carol, "O Christmas Tree."

Old favorites, like the open-air light and fountain show, featuring holiday music, and the lighted daffodils and crocuses create what six women wearing reindeer hats called "wow moments." The friends had dined at the Terrace Restaurant and had just returned from watching ice-skaters perform a 20-minute vignette in the moonlight.

"Around every turn, there is something that takes my breath away," said Suzanne Beeman, who was celebrating her 43d birthday.

Twenty-two miles away, employees at the family-owned Herr Foods, Inc. in Nottingham have also been hard at work on their own winter wonderland, which runs from Thanksgiving Eve until Jan. 2.

The annual Christmas display, which is free and includes a nativity scene, is the work of Herr's chief light technician, Dave Messaros, and three other employees.

"Dave is a '3G' ," said promotional events coordinator Melanie Coldiron, meaning that he is a third generation Herr's employee.

Coldiron estimates that Messaros and his staff hang between 300,000 and 400,000 lights "in wind, rain and cold to meet their deadline." To reach trees as high as 100 feet, Messaros borrows a cherry picker from Oatman Tree Service.

Coldiron said Jim Herr, the company's founder, began installing Christmas lights 19 years ago as a way to celebrate the holidays with the community. Two years ago, 25,000 cars drove the Christmas display loop around the property.

This is the third year that Amanda Schwartz, 14, and her mother, Jinger Schonvisky, of Quarryville, Pa., have come to see the lights. After Amanda and a friend ran beneath the trees taking pictures with their cell phones, Schonvisky reflected on why they make the trip.

"I like how some of the colors - for instance, blue and purple - are not traditional Christmas colors," she said. "It's more creative for a new generation."

Looking for the Lights

Longwood Gardens

is located on U.S. Route 1, three miles northeast of Kennett Square. It is open 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. seven days a week, including Christmas and New Year's Day.

The Christmas lights are on 5 p.m. to 9 p.m. until Jan. 6.

General admission prices are $16 for adults; $14 for seniors (62 and over), $6 for students (5-22), and free for age 4 and under. Ice-skating performances are an additional $4 fee. For more information, call 610-388-1000 or visit



Herr Foods

, Inc. is located near the intersection of Routes 1 and 272 in Nottingham. Follow Route 1 south to Route 272 (Nottingham) and turn left. Travel for 50 yards, turn right onto Herr Drive and follow signs to the Herr's Snack Factory Tour. Follow signs for the Christmas display.

Lights are on from 5 p.m. to 7 a.m. until Jan. 2. Admission is free. For more information, call 610-932-9330 or visit