Magical Winter Lights at Gulf Greyhound Park in La Marque stretches November 10 through January 2, including Thanksgiving, Christmas Eve, Christmas Day, New Year’s Eve and New Year’s Day. Produced by People Generation, Inc. and Sichuan PG Salient Cultural Trade Company, it is one of the largest holiday lighting events in Houston and the largest lantern festival of its kind to take place in the U.S.
The entire festival is inspired by the lanterns from the Eastern tradition, and it features lights, do-it-yourself arts and crafts, carnival rides, photo opportunities with the Ice Sisters and Santa, and Chinese acrobats.
Summing it up, PR and event manager Chelsea Atkinson says, “It’s an all-encompassing holiday event. We have the light display and lots of entertainment elements. They’re popular and they’re a great reason for people to come with their families.”
“We make sure that the displays really relate to our local audience. That is the main driving force behind us adding a Lone Star section,” Atkinson adds. “It should be around 15 lanterns that highlight Texas culture, landmarks and different cities. Basically, it’s everything Texas-related.”
These aren’t your run-of-the-mill lanterns, though. They come from China, and they span multiple feet tall as well as wide. They also have a storied history.
People Generation is run by a businesswoman who grew up in China, explains Atkinson. She wanted to find a way to show her child the traditions of China while living here in Texas, so she developed the idea of bringing the lanterns in lieu of holiday lights. The small city where the lanterns come from is the same place where early dinosaur fossils were discovered in China; hence, the group also incorporates a dinosaur theme into one part of its attraction.
“The town is really well known in China for their lantern-making, and this industry is basically a focal point of their economy," says Atkinson. "They also produce life-size dinosaurs. Our dinosaurs are very realistic. They’re really well made and realistic, and we also have a dino ‘fun zone’ where people can dig for fossils. We have photo opportunities like dinosaur rides or a jeep with a dinosaur chasing it. People love it.”
Chinese lantern festivals began approximately 2,000 years ago during the Han Dynasty. Although no one quite knows the origin, it's believed the festival was meant to celebrate the "declining darkness of winter," and the ability to move through the dark with human-generated light.
“We have a Do-It-Yourself tent, where you can purchase a lantern and decorate it. We also have a souvenir tent that has different elements of the festival.”
Running December 15 through January 2, the festival will have Chinese arts and crafts vendors who have a specific trade, like writing in Chinese or origami.
Now in its third year in Houston, the group has expanded the event to include our neighbors to the north. Dallas will experience the Magical Winter Lights for the first time this year as the vendor takes over Lone Star Park in Grand Prairie.
“We feel like Magical Winter Lights offers something really unique," says Atkinson. "We’re based out of Houston, and we’re very proud of Houston. We also wanted to take this show to Dallas as an extension of our Houston brand.”
Magical Winter Lights runs 5-10 p.m. Sunday through Thursday and 5-11 p.m. Friday and Saturday from November 10 to January 2; closed November 13 and 27 and December 4 and 11. Chinese acrobatic performances take place 6:30 and 8:30 p.m. Sunday through Thursday and 7 and 9 p.m. Friday and Saturday. To see Magical Winter Lights, go to Gulf Greyhound Park, 1000 FM 2004, La Marque. For information, visit magicalwinterlights.com. Tickets $13 to $76; free for children under four.