Lights, oddly, listed

It’s such a small-town thing, to notice when Austin’s mentioned in a national context. People in New York don’t notice and don’t care about such things; neither do people in Chicago. Even in older cities sinking in the population rankings while Houston and Las Vegas rise, nobody cares (think Boston, Baltimore, and so on). But we stll notice, and we care at least a little. Here’s one I don’t understand at all: Newsweek has a “Checklist” feature in each issue and in this one the nation is told to “Go To Austin for the annnual Trail of Lights festival.”

I confess that it’s been a long time since I’ve paid attention to the trail of lights. As someone with an interest in hand-constructed and -painted displays I always did enjoy it. The older displays, as I recall, were pretty much made up during the course of the year as time permitted by the people who worked in the parks department sign shop. They were fun to see in the daylight for their folk-art qualities, and at night they were illuminated by low spotlights and embellished with colored Christmas-tree lights. It all started as Yule fest and then eventually went on to Greater Things, under another name.

These days, it’s all a Big Deal, with restricted access, a lot of corporate sponsorship, and much, much more “sophistication.” A bit of the old style can be seen in this display, where one of the figures brandishes a partly consumed turkey leg. The ‘dillo tableau is one of the earlier examples of more elaborate ones that I remember. What I’d really like to know is how the trail of lights made its way onto a Newsweek list and from how great a distance people will travel to Austin on that recommendation.

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