Three full-time employees work year-round to create the Magic Christmas in Lights at Bellingrath Gardens and Home outside Mobile. Around Labor Day, the massive installation of 3 million lights and 1,100 set pieces begins and doesn’t pause until Nov. 19, when Bellingrath debuts its 2021 themed set design, a well-kept secret until that night.

“The entire show is designed and built here at Bellingrath Gardens,” said Sandy Ericson, director of marketing and public relations. “They are all designed to fit inside the gardens.”

The magical light show has received numerous accolades over the years, including a 2020 Southeast Tourism Society Top 20 Festival & Event and being ranked on USA Today’s 2020 and 2018 lists of “10 Best Botanical Garden Holiday Light Displays.” 

Magic Christmas in Lights continues until Jan. 5, 2022. 

Here are a few guidelines for a visit to the historic 65-acre gardens and home of Walter and Bessie Bellingrath.

View the lights

Magic Christmas in Lights is a self-guided walking tour through the gardens and its 16 “scenes,” that usually takes 45 minutes to an hour and a half. The lights display is open nightly from Nov. 26 to Jan. 5, 2022, but closed on Christmas Day and New Year’s Day.

Last year marked the event’s 25th anniversary and Bellingrath celebrated with the debut of a Mardi Gras scene, complete with lighted images of marching bands and floats with riders throwing beads. The Mardi Gras set, along with a new display, will be part of this year’s magic.

Tour the House

The Bellingraths of Mobile — Walter Bellingrath was a successful bottler of Coca-Cola in Mobile — purchased a retreat on a bluff above the Fowl River, about 20 miles from Dauphin Island. Bessie Bellingrath improved the rustic land with her trademark azaleas and other plants from her fine Mobile home and the couple eventually built a 15-room home in the mid-1930s with views of the river below. Eventually, the property became known for its elaborate gardens and well-furnished home.

Visitors may enjoy guided tours of the home decorated with 1930s holiday decorations from 4 p.m. to 8:30 p.m. Sunday through Thursday and 4 p.m. to 9 p.m. Friday and Saturday during the Magic Christmas in Lights event (as well as during the day). 

“It’s a neat chance to see the house decorated for Christmas and see how the home was decorated in the 1930s,” Ericson said.

Dine & Shop

Magnolia Café will be open from 4 p.m. to 8 p.m. nightly for hot meals, salads, sandwiches and soups. In addition, snacks and hot chocolate will be available on Live Oak Plaza at the midway point of the walking tour. 

For those looking for garden-themed and unique holiday gifts, the Bellingrath Gift Shop will be open nightly until 9 p.m.

Purchase tickets

Last year, Bellingrath used timed entrance tickets because of the pandemic. Although it’s “highly encouraged” to buy tickets ahead of time via the Bellingrath’s website, tickets may be purchased at the gate the night of the event as well, Ericson said. Safety pandemic guidelines remain, basically masks encouraged but not required. Participants will be outside for the entire lights tour, but inside for the home tour. 

“They should bring a mask to use if they cannot social distance,” Ericson added.

For ticket information, visit bellingrath.org.

Winter Wednesdays

Winter fun continues at Bellingrath with its annual Winter Wednesdays, programs that run through January and February. The weekly events feature guest lectures from members of the horticultural and gardening world, tips on making gardens and homes more appealing, and usually at least one night event. Most programs begin at 10:30 a.m. 

Winter Wednesday events are included in admission but reservations are requested; call (251) 459-8868 or email bellingrath@bellingrath.org.