One of my favorite parts of the holiday season is enjoying the lights. I grew up in Kansas City, Mo., and a very important holiday tradition there is the Plaza lights.

The Plaza is an area of the city designed after Kansas City's sister city, Seville, Spain. J.C. Nichols developed this beautiful shopping and entertainment district. Established in 1922, it became the first suburban shopping center in the United States.

Every year on Thanksgiving night, tens of thousands of people stand in the Plaza streets and watch the ceremonial lighting. More than 80 miles of lights are on every evening from Thanksgiving night through the middle of January.

As a child, I watched the lighting at home with my family as it was broadcast on local television stations. As a high school student and as a college student home on break, I would brave the crowds and the cold weather with my friends to enjoy the atmosphere in person.

While living in Chicago, my husband and I started a tradition of driving around a neighborhood in Lincolnwood, Ill., where many homes had elaborate light displays and decorations.

The most memorable home had an enormous Christmas tree inside that you could view through its windows. The tree appeared to start on the first floor, continue up through the second floor, then poke through the roof.

When our son Preston was younger, he would wonder how the family got that huge tree into the house and how they cut out the holes in the ceiling and roof. It was a wonderful illusion.

Since our family moved to Tucson, we have made the Winterhaven Festival of Lights our holiday tradition. We love to walk with friends through the neighborhood and see the homeowners' personalities and creativity expressed through their displays.

One home sends a powerful message with a single word spelled out in lights - "Peace." We see who is a fan of Harry Potter and who likes the Peanuts gang. We enjoy the local flavor in some of the displays, particularly the DeGrazia-inspired one, as well as the Reid Park Zoo display with its beautiful peacocks. We look to the rooftops and enjoy the marching toy soldiers on one and, on another, the whales that, as the display reads, are having a "whale of a good time in Winterhaven."

At different ages, in different cities and with different people, holiday lights have been a meaningful tradition for me. I hope you are enjoying your own holiday traditions at this special time of year. Season's greetings!

All aglow

• The Winterhaven Festival of Lights continues through Christmas night. Walk nightly through the midtown neighborhood (between North Tucson Boulevard and North Country Club Road and between East Prince Road and East Fort Lowell Road).

• Zoo Lights at Reid Park Zoo runs from 6 p.m. to 8 p.m. tonight and Friday. Admission is $5 for adults ($4 for members) and $3 for children.

E-mail Kelley Helfand at foothills@azstarnet.com