I have always loved the holidays and remember, as a child, my father driving our family through the neighborhood to admire colorful flashing and animated holiday scenes displayed on front lawns.

I looked forward to those evening drives that heralded the imminent arrival of Santa!  Today, it’s no different; I’m still enthralled by light displays that inspire me and not just for the holidays.

Last year on WomanScape, I shared The Newport Harbor Holiday Boat Parade  This holiday light parade is a collection of decorated boats done in the spirit of the season.  It’s a holiday favorite that continues to delight young and old since its inception in 1907.

But wait till you hear about two other illuminating light displays that I discovered this year.  The first was a performance exhibit by Elizabeth Turk on November 3. Elizabeth is an artist primarily known for her work in marble sculpture but this year’s presentation The Shoreline Project was much different.

It involved 1,000 volunteers dancing together while holding and twirling umbrellas in a seashell mandala pattern. The umbrellas were lit by a LED base that made for a spectacular vision on the shoreline of Main Beach in Laguna Beach, CA.  People could watch the live action from the cliff-tops of Main Beach.

My husband and I anchored our boat off the beach before sunset, just in time to hear a primal drum beat of live music.  As the sun set, the umbrellas popped open and the dancers moved their illuminated umbrellas in an orchestral show of sound and light.

The sunset was especially gorgeous with varying shades of pinks and oranges.  It hovered above the edge of the beach dotted with sprinkled swirls too numerous to count on the main stretch of sand.  As the opened umbrellas sent flashes of light across the black canvas of ocean,  I was mesmerized.

Turk’s exhibit is filled with meaning ensconced in the seashell mandala.  She chose the seashell because it is primarily made of calcium.  Calcium is a mineral that connects nature to humans and humans to each other.  The LED umbrellas showcase seashells in a symbolic way, sheltering and lighting them in the same way that nature brings people together, especially as darkness descends.

The exhibit uses the Pacific Ocean as its boundary, like a bridge connecting nature to our bodies of light on shore.  We are at one with nature physically and symbolically.  As a native Californian, I’ve known this special connection to the ocean my entire life.

With our son’s recent move to San Francisco, one of my favorite cities, I have another reason to visit this city more frequently. I’ve discovered new sights and traditions held every holiday season from Thanksgiving to New Year’s Day. But San Francisco’s Annual Festival of Lights brightens the entire Bay Area with lighted exhibits of the holiday season.

#IlluminateSF presents 36 days of lighted attractions.  There are 27 lighted art installations and several free guided tours of the exhibits throughout the season.  These individual works of light are installed all over the city giving the entire community their own unique shining moment.  From the Bay Bridge to Golden Gate Park to Potrero and more, I now have new points of interest to explore and enriching art exhibits every holiday season!

What I love most about these exhibits is their accessibility. Public installations have the power to reach people who may never attend a gallery show or museum.  The arts connect us to each other and inspire us to express ourselves in our own personal way.  This holiday season take time to explore your neighborhood for art that’s hiding in plain sight and share it with others!

Denise Benson

Denise Benson

Denise Benson is a photographer, creative writer and traveler. Discovering new ideas, people, places and cultures is a lifelong passion, which Denise enjoys sharing with her readers using her unique perspective as a photographic storyteller. An avid sailor, she and her husband Brian have sailed 10,000 blue water miles exploring the South Pacific. Along with sailing, she enjoys travel, food & wine, books and nature related activities, including napping on the fore-deck of her boat, Moonstone.

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