PNC Festival of Lights

There’s a warmth that comes with Christmas lights, isn’t there? Something about little twinkling lights twisted around a tree and a hot chocolate (or a strong coffee in my case) in your hand that makes it a little easier to ignore that December-in-Cincinnati chill, almost making that bite in the air endearing. Every strand making you feel just a little bit more like a kid again. Every dangling ornament holding a certain sentiment. Each little light bringing to mind hopes for Christmas Future, delight in the magic of Christmas Present and, my favorite, the traditions of Christmas Past.


Growing up in Cincinnati, or just North of Cincinnati like I did, you are surrounded by Christmas tradition: the Duke Energy trains, ice skating on Fountain Square, and of course, the PNC Bank Festival of Lights at the Cincinnati Zoo just to name a few. I grew up about a half hour outside of downtown Cincinnati. Every year my Mom planned a girls day for my cousins, little sister and me. We’d bundle ourselves and pile into her minivan singing along with the Christmas songs on the radio the whole way. Every year we’d start at Macy’s and wander around downtown to see the twinkling decorations shopping along the way until our toes were numb and our noses were rosey, never leaving before one quick spin through Tiffany to “look but don’t touch” at all the REAL sparkle they had to offer.

Being a brand-new mom to a 5 month old boy, I’ve been looking forward to creating our own Christmas img_1345memories and traditions; and being a stay at home mom to a summer baby meant being able to enjoy being outside with him throughout the last few months. I’ve always loved the Cincinnati Zoo so we spent a good portion of our summer there. We quickly became very familiar with the layout of the zoo. Or at least I did, he slept through the first 30 or so trips. By the end of the summer I knew that place like it was my own home. Lions are over there, Bears are up that giant, torturous hill (I’m a wimp behind the stroller), hippos are toward the back. However, visiting of the Festival of Lights left me a bit disoriented. I found myself wandering past our normal resting places. Walking slowly completely amazed by the transformation. 2.5 million lights wound tightly around every tree, stretching above our heads and lighting every walking path. Every building and exhibit sparkling, even Swan Lake lit up as we passed the bench where we typically stop for a snack and a bottle.


This was my first year taking a little one of my own. I had been with cousins or the kids I was babysitting before, but I was excited to be able to bring my son this year. He’s just 5 months old but still really seemed to enjoy the lights. Every turn holds a new activity to keep the kiddies entertained; Smores N More Stand, a photo stop with the Frozen princesses, puppet shows and my son’s favorite: the BB&T Toyland Express.


We pulled in to an almost empty parking lot around 4:30 p.m. and left around 6:30 p.m. just as it was really starting to get crowded. Aside from the train ride, my favorite memory was our visit with Santa. Handing a baby to a stranger with a beard and a hat went about as well as you can imagine:


The PNC Festival of Lights runs through January 1, 2017 (Sun – Thurs 5 p.m. – 9 p.m. and Fri-Sat 5 p.m.-10 p.m.) and is free to members of the Cincinnati Zoo. Non-members can pick up discount tickets at Kroger stores. Skyline Chili is also running Skyline Chili Half Price Nights this weekend, December 5-7 – discount Christmas lights AND Skyline? How’s that for motivation? 

emilydaffinAbout Emily:

Emily grew up just north of Cincinnati in Hamilton, OH and now lives in Western Hills with her husband Jim, their son James and their lunatic yellow lab, Rosey. Emily graduated from Xavier University (Go Muskies!), and is now a stay at home mom after working in marketing and promotions for local radio and TV stations.

Emily spends most of her free time visiting the manatees (James’ favorite) at the Cincinnati Zoo, shopping at local antique shops, or singing Beatles songs with James who typically just stares at her like she’s crazy. Emily hopes one day he’ll join in but for now she enjoys his giggles. She also enjoys photography and has quickly turned into a Pure Barre addict while trying to melt away the daily milkshakes she consumed while pregnant. So far it’s going well, but Skyline frequently gets in the way.

Emily loves to write and is looking forward to connecting with other Moms in Cincinnati while writing for Cincinnati Parent.

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