The family traditions, the food, the festivities, "A Christmas Story" on perma-repeat in the background - nothing quite beats the serenity and feel-good glow of this season. Plus, you have relatives around. Which gets us to this story - getting those relatives out of the house (you'll go with them) to take in some of that feel-good glow.
We have some suggestions below for not-to-miss displays. Start with these, or just start driving (or walking or biking, however you move). You'll see the season illuminated pretty much in every neighborhood around. Happy viewing!
1611 W. 12th St.
Willis Littlefield's quaint house in West Austin lacks some of the grandeur of the bigger displays around town, but he more than makes up in originality and sincerity. Soulful music from his gospel group, Bells of Joy, plays softly from the speakers in the yard while "snow" fills the scene from behind a lit-up, wire-framed polar bear. Littlefield takes down and puts up a parade of dancing Santas in ascending sizes and shapes every day, with a Barbie-sized Santa in a mini-red Corvette leading the pack and ending in a life-size hip-shimmying Mr. Claus. The familial, neighborly spirit of Littlefield's house is apparent, from the wedding that took place in his yard on Dec. 4 to the bowl of candy canes he and his wife leave in the street for passersby. He leaves the lights on until 10 or 10:30 p.m. weekdays, about 11 p.m. Friday and Saturday.
Mozart's Coffee House, 3825 Lake Austin Blvd.
We love a business that goes beyond piped-in holiday music (see also the glorious stretch of Barton Springs Road that includes a bedazzled Chuy's, Shady Grove, Baby Acapulco and even the trailer known as Kate's Southern Comfort). Gasp-worthy at first sight, strings of white, red and green bulbs hang from branches and crisscross over Mozart's wooden outdoor deck like a magical spiderweb. A new wave Christmas tree constructed of green and red circles stands guard above the scene, and snowflakes twinkle in red-lit archways that open onto the deck itself. The giant white and red ornaments' reflection on the water below is, in our photographer's words, "kinda magical." Plus: a dancing light show, synchronized to music and with a burnt orange shout-out that runs seven times a night, at 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11 p.m. and midnight (through New Year's Eve). www.mozartscoffee.com
1101 Robert E. Lee Road
A giant toy soldier stands guard at the end of the driveway, lined with oversized candy canes, mechanically raising and lowering his outstretched arm over the white-bulbed forest scene in front of him. Classy wreaths and garlands strung with twinkling lights hang over luminous antlered animals "grazing" the front lawn and angels doing their harking thing all over the place. Through the windows, you see a tastefully simple tree and stockings clearly hung over the chimney with care. This house is more "White Christmas" than "Deck the Halls": a classy holiday treat.
8304 Roan Lane
This house in Oak Hill has it all: an intricate light display that blinks and flashes in tune with its own Christmas-themed radio station, 93.1 FM; speakers so you can admire the display from both inside and outside your car; fake snow blowing from the branches of the yard's tallest tree; philanthropic motives (a red ticker reveals they're collecting money for the Make-A-Wish Foundation of Central and South Texas); good PR with their website, www.mccoylights.com ; and consistency. The evening display goes on from 5:30 p.m. to 10:30 p.m. daily.
South Main Street, Georgetown
For friends to the north, we recommend checking out the houses on South Main Street between West 16th Street and University Avenue (Texas 29). It's just south of downtown Georgetown (where the courthouse on the square is pretty decked out, too). A stretch of beautiful, old homes - big houses with wraparound porches -are really dressed for Christmas. One of them, in particular, is so pretty and tasteful that it takes a minute or so to realize that there is a full-size "A Christmas Story" leg lamp in the window. Frah-JEE-lay!
2708 Collingwood Drive, Round Rock
Williamson County's answer to the synchronized lights and music display. Like the Oak Hill home, this one also has a website (www.listentoourlights.com ) and a personalized radio station (106.9 FM) so you can enjoy the event from the cozy confines of your heated car cabin. Hours of operation: 6 to 9 p.m. Sunday through Thursday, lights stay on until 10 p.m.; 5 to 10 p.m. Friday and Saturday. (We also featured Collingwood in the "Weird Christmas" story in Saturday's Life & Arts, so that gives you some idea of what to expect.)
Zilker Holiday Tree
With no Trail of Lights this year, the draw to the giant "tree" is greater than ever. Dwarfing the people underneath, it can be seen between the hills from far across town. And if the sheer size isn't impressive enough, add spirals of rainbow lights. Head to the middle of the tree, look up and spin!
- Compiled by Kelly West, Nicole Alvarado and Dale Roe