• Penny Neef

We All Need a Little Sparkle



Words, Images, and Video by Penny Neef.


Like crows that are drawn to bright baubles for no reason other than the glitter, humans are also drawn to sparkles, especially during the holidays. I have no science to back this up, but we humans are craving a whole lot of sparkle right now for this particular 2020 pandemic holiday season.


Where can you get your sparkle on at the end of a very long 2020 in Hampton Roads? Virginia Beach has drive through Holiday Lights at the Beach.


Nauticus has lit up the Battleship Wisconsin for this first time ever, walk- through, sparkle show.


Another first-time pandemic holiday light show is just around the corner from me. Festival of Lights at Sleepy Hole Park in Suffolk is small but sparkly, and this one is free.


But my favorite of all the sparkly, holiday displays is the award-winning, over a million light bulbs, up, down and all-around Dominion Energy Garden of Lights drive through extravaganza at Norfolk Botanical Garden from now through January 2, 2021.

Norfolk Botanical Garden is my happy place all year long, but especially this year. I’ve written about it here. NBG is one of the few places that stayed open throughout the pandemic. It is 175 acres of wide-open, fresh air beauty. Physically distancing is never a problem. There is always something in bloom. This is something I greatly appreciate, having moved from Michigan 7 years ago, where there is nothing in bloom 6 months of the year. NBG has provided beauty, peace and happiness for so many this year.


The Garden of Lights has been a holiday tradition for our family since we moved to Hampton Roads to be near to our grandchildren. There have been years that we walked through the “Million Bulb Walk” and years that we’ve packed everyone into the minivan and driven through. This year, for safety’s sake, NBG’s holiday light show is drive through only.


I’ve been to Garden of Lights for 7 straight years. We love it every year. Some things stay the same. My grandchildren always look for the giant dragon that shoots fire out of its mouth. The dragon is there every year. He moves around the Garden each year, so he’s always fun to find.


Some things stay the same, but the Garden of Lights is always different. My husband swears that the bulbs were brighter this year. The displays are always bigger. The route through the Garden changes. There is always something new.


I love the undersea display as you come off the first bridge. It feels like you’re driving through a sparkly seascape. The Norfolk mermaid is dead ahead, greeting you in this fantasy land. It’s very easy to forget about Covid-19 for a while as you “ooh” and “ahh” with your family bubble inside a nice warm vehicle.



The best bargain in town is a family membership to Norfolk Botanical Garden. A yearly membership gets you into NBG as often as you like for free. It also gives you discounts on special programs and events. If you are a NGB member, you can put as many in your family that will safely buckle up and ride through Garden of Lights for $25.


Tickets this year must be reserved and purchased online. You can reserve a day and a time slot. This is a good thing, since it prevents the long lines waiting to get in that used to happen quite frequently in the past. Fair warning – the tickets have sold out the last three weekends. We purchased out tickets for a Monday night with no problem.


Garden of Lights is Norfolk Botanical Garden’s largest fundraiser of the year. This is the year to support a Hampton Roads institution that is not only a place of beauty and nature, but an organization that is committed to environmental stewardship and community engagement.


Go online and purchase your tickets here, buckle up your bubble people, and start a sparkly family tradition this year at Norfolk Botanical Gardens.


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