Legendary attractions light up metro Atlanta for the holidays

Projections and lights appear across Stone Mountain during the park's end-of-night light and fireworks show, Princess Aurora’s Light Spectacular & The World’s Largest Christmas Light Show. It is now in its second year at the park's annual Stone Mountain Christmas holiday event. (Courtesy of Stone Mountain Park)

As Thanksgiving plates are stored in the cabinet and decorations are placed around the home, Atlanta residents are full-on into the 2023 holiday season.

The season also comes with an avalanche of visitors to festive outdoor staples like the Atlanta Botanical Garden and Stone Mountain Park, plus a countless array of lights and live entertainment … not to mention endless hot chocolate refills.

At Atlanta Botanical’s “Garden Nights, Holiday Lights” celebration, now in its 13th year of operation, the garden’s 60-acre property is garnished with assortments, including Nature’s Wonders, a curtain of lights synchronized to music, and giant lighted bird and deer sculptures designed by an overseas French artist.

According to Danny Flanders, Public Relations and Marketing Manager for the Gardens, this year’s celebration is expected to anticipate over 200,000 visitors throughout the month of December. A fine reward for the gardens, considering the estimated 7,288 hours of planning and labor that goes into coordinating each event.

“We start planning and design more than a year out while the current show is being installed to note changes and improvements we’d like to make during the next year’s show,” Flanders said.

The Atlanta Botanical Gardens’ popular White Rabbit light display stands front and center at “Garden Nights, Holiday Lights,” the month-long holiday event for the garden. (Kenny Murry/WABE)

“Since we start installing the show in mid-summer, we often have to work around other exhibits and crowds of guests,” Flanders said. “Weather can also slow down the installation, yet we always get it done on time.”

Flanders also notes that despite the heavy time crunches involved in setting up “Garden Nights” — an event that he describes best as “urban chic” and nontraditional — seeing visitors’ experiences makes it all worthwhile.

“I think it’s such an immersive experience,” he said. “For adults, it takes them back to childhood. For kids, it’s like they’ve been whisked away to another joyful planet.”

Stan Morrell, SVP of Entertainment and Special Events for Stone Mountain Park, agrees with this sentiment when discussing Stone Mountain’s holiday appeal.

He notes that many visitors are guests who visited the park when they were children, who are now bringing their own children.

“It’s an event where families want to come and make memories … they want to see all the lights, and listen to the music. The kids want to come see Santa and bring their lists,” said Jehan Williams, Senior Manager of Communications and Digital Marketing. “It’s a magical time of the year and a place where guests can have so many [activities] in one spot.”

Roughly 16 miles away from the Botanical Garden, Stone Mountain Christmas has set up a winter wonderland, complete with lights throughout the resort area landscape and live performances in the park’s Crossroad area.

This year, the transformation to Christmas from the resort’s preceding October Pumpkin Festival was executed in 12 days by an extended team of workers.

Outside of crew, the park also extends hires for writers, actors and singers for live entertainment events, including fan favorites such as the park’s holiday parade and the Crossroads Christmas Carol, an improv show based on the classic Charles Dickens story that celebrates its 20th anniversary in the park.

A family enjoys a surprise burst of snowfall, one of the many “magical moments” that Stone Mountain representatives say that A Stone Mountain Christmas has to offer. (Courtesy of Stone Mountain Park)

Another fan favorite that has been brought back for a second year is the park’s Princess Aurora’s Light Spectacular & The World’s Largest Christmas Light Show, a presentation in front of the park’s namesake featuring pyrotechnics, drones, video projection and the character of Princess Aurora, a snow princess created specifically for Stone Mountain Christmas.

Not only is the character a beacon of hope and goodwill for the children who cheer for her during her entrance in the show, but she’s also a representation of how the park continues to grow in their hopes of keeping tradition but still expanding new ideas and attractions.

“One of the things that are forefront in our mind are what are differentiators?” Morrell said. “What are things that we can create that can be cool for the family that they’re not going to be able to see anywhere else? It’s long hours, and lots of love … and pizza.”