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Review: Holiday light show transforms Descanso Gardens this season

“Enchanted: Forest of Light,” a holiday-oriented light show experience is running at Descanso Gardens from Nov. 19 to Jan. 7. The gift store by the entrance sets a holiday mood for the hordes of guests trickling into the garden with shop workers dressed in light-up festive garb and a little nursery filled with hanging lights and light-up reindeer in the backdrop. (Farida Saleh/Daily Bruin)

By Adrija Chakrabarty

Nov. 21, 2017 10:18 p.m.

The mystical garden exhibits and entrancing laser shows of “Enchanted: Forest of Light” carve out a new holiday-experience niche for itself.

Without relying on kitschy plastic Santas or red-and-green lights, the event transforms a humble botanical garden into a spectacular holiday-oriented light show experience, open from Nov. 19 to Jan. 7 at Descanso Gardens.

The gift store by the entrance is the most holiday-themed section of the tour. Appropriately setting the mood for the hordes of guests trickling into the garden, the shop features workers dressed in light-up festive garb and a little nursery filled with hanging lights and light-up reindeer in the backdrop.

However, as visitors stroll into the actual garden, the holiday theme almost disappears, except for tents selling hot chocolate and cider to placate the shivering attendees. Even the light-up marquee at the start of the loop of exhibits shies away from using red-and-green spotlights, instead opting for lights that change from blue-purple to pink-red. As a result, “Enchanted: Forest of Light” follows more of a fairy-tale theme and only capitalizes on the holiday season as a timely anchor for its seasonal light show.

As visitors travel along the trail loop, they catch sight of dotted lights off to the side of the entrance. The lights reveal themselves to be an expansive field of color-changing, light-up plastic tulips. The psychedelic flowers showcase every color of the rainbow – a visual appetizer to whet guests’ appetites for the coming attractions.

The next stop on the loop, the Starlight Garden, combines an understated winter wonderland theme with the mystical fairy-tale motif. Softly-lit snowflake ornaments hanging from arched gates decorate the path, which also features a fountain with swooping bougainvilleas hanging from its fresco-textured pillars. Hanging lanterns with flowery designs on the side adorn the end of the path, casting brilliantly intricate patterns on the ground, trees and faces of children playing with the lamps.

Another interactive exhibit, the Lightwave Lake allows guests to manipulate lasers and spotlights that shine on the garden’s mini lake. Children enthusiastically play with the buttons and joysticks controlling the lights as parents caution them not to swivel the beams in the direction of onlookers’ eyes.

Past the lake, visitors can find the Symphony of Oaks and Fantasy Forest, both of which take full advantage of the fogginess of winter nights to create an enchanting atmosphere alluded to in the name of the event. Paired with wind chime music that vaguely resembles the eerie soundtrack of a science fiction movie, the fluorescent lights beam across the fog-shrouded evergreens – a popular picture-taking venue.

One of the last attractions on the tour is the Garden of Good Fortune, which transforms a Japanese tea garden into a sea of red paper lanterns dotted along the bank of a stream and reflecting off of the running water. With the red light illuminating the pebble-paved pathways and the pagoda-inspired building, the vibrant display of lights on the intricate architecture is a wonderful last visual experience for guests as they exit the event.

The magic of “Enchanted: Forest of Lights” comes from its holiday subtlety. While couples sharing hot chocolates in the magnificently lit gardens feels very fitting for the holiday season, as a whole, the event downplays the holiday motif and opts to dazzle crowds without using cliched Christmas decor as a crutch. By sharing the sentiments of awe and happiness in the cold outdoors, guests can leave “Enchanted: Forest of Light” ready to embrace the spirit of the holidays.

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Adrija Chakrabarty
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