The story of the Denver City and County Building’s lights began in 1919 when John Malpiede changed the white globes in Civic Center to red and green and twined some evergreen branches around the decorations. Then in 1920, the first Christmas tree was erected in Civic Center.
Malpiede eventually convinced Denver Mayor Ben Stapleton in 1926 that city hall, then located at 14th and Larimer streets, should be decorated for the holidays. Stapleton gave him $400 for equipment and decorations that year, and with that money Malpiede and four city electrical inspectors bought wiring and colored bulbs and strung them around the building.
The City and County of Denver municipal government moved to its current location in 1932, and the tradition of lighting the building the Friday after Thanksgiving continued.
A crew of six to eight people begins putting up lights in mid-October. In 2009, the city installed approximately 585 LED permanent light fixtures on the building and more than 2,000 feet of LED rope lights are used. Approximately five miles of electric wiring is utilized for the entire project.
Blossoms of Light
Denver Botanic Gardens, 1007 York St., Denver
Lights on display through Jan. 1
5 to 9 p.m.
Purchase tickets in advance at to ensure entry at www.botanicgardens.org
Denver City and County Building
1437 Bannock St., Denver
Lights on display until Jan. 21
5:45 to 10:45 p.m.
Holiday’s Evening on the Littleton Museum Farms
6028 S Gallup St, Littleton, CO 80120
5:30-8 p.m. Dec. 10
Will feature candlelight and bonfires as visitors stroll through the historic farms. Music, snacks and Santa. Tickets in advance at Littleton Museum and Bemis Library.
A Hudson Christmas
Hudson Gardens, 6115 S. Santa Fe Drive, Littleton
5:30-8:30 p.m. Dec. 8, 9, 10 and nightly Dec. 15 to 31
The model train will be decorated, a giant Christmas tree will dazzle, as will countless evergreen trees. Walk through a lighted tunnel, enjoy reflections in the pond and shining snowflakes. Hot drinks, sweet treats and gift items are available and, of course, Santa is on hand to greet visitors. Tickets available at hudsongardens.org or at the door.
Santa’s Village at Chatfield Farms
8500 W. Deer Creek Canyon Road, Littleton
Lights on display Friday, Saturday and Sunday through Dec. 24
4:30 to 8:30 p.m.
Purchase tickets in advance at to ensure entry www.botanicgardens.org
Denver Zoo, 2300 Steele St., Denver
Lights on display through Dec. 31
5:30 to 9 p.m.
Dec. 1 to 31
Purchase tickets in advance at to ensure entry at www.denverzoo.org
Even though Grace Ramírez is a Denver native and works for the City of Denver, it’s still a thrill to see downtown and the Denver City and County Building all lit up for the season.
“It’s been part of our family tradition for years,” said Ramírez, senior adviser for community affairs. “It’s a touchstone for a lot of families, and even though the lights are different every year, we have decorations we use every time. People have their favorites, which they are on the lookout for.”
During the holiday season, Denver and surrounding cities have for years lit up the night with flashing and twinkling lights, music and family fun. All visitors need is a coat.
The holiday lights at the Denver City and County Building have been a feature of the holidays since 1932, though its roots go back to 1919. The Denver Zoo’s annual Zoo Lights is entering its 27th year, and the Denver Botanic Gardens has hosted Blossoms of Light at its York Street Garden for 29 years, while the facility’s Chatfield Farms location has played host to lights for nine years — first as Trail of Lights, and this year as Santa’s Village.
Because of this, each has become part of the season for families all over the metro area.
“We’re the Rocky Mountain region’s largest lighting event, with most of our 60 acres lit up, as well as 130 animated animal sculptures,” said Sean Anderson-Vie, public relations manager with the zoo. “People really take in all the different animals, which is great, because a lot of detail goes into the sculptures.”
Beyond providing terrific holiday atmosphere, there are some unique activities available for visitors:
Pop the question in a winter wonderland
The lights at places like the zoo and the Blossoms of Lights top most home displays, which makes them the perfect places to get engaged.
The zoo sees plenty of engagements, Anderson-Vie said, and Blossoms was the site of so many that it started an engagement package.
“For people who want to propose, they can buy one of these, which provides them an hour to set up on the Green Roof, on top of our Offshoots Café,” said Erin Bird, communications manager at the Denver Botanic Gardens. “They can bring champagne up there and up to three guests to celebrate with them.”
Interacting with the light
The challenge with traditional activities is bringing people back with something new, and this year visitors will get to interact with the lights in different ways.
The lights at the Denver City and County Building are synced to a music show, which begins at 5:30 and 6:45 p.m. Those looking to get even more hands-on can volunteer to actually switch the lights on.
At Blossoms of Light, there’s an interactive light display set up in the theater that features a large field of sound-reactive, animated LED lights. As Bird explains, the lights react to the tones of voice and of drums.
But the biggest change is at Chatfield Farms, where the Trail of Lights and its country approach has been replaced with a North Pole theme.
“Santa and Mrs. Claus will be there, and we’ll even have live reindeer,” Bird said. “Tickets also get you hayride, and we have a Christmas cinema set up as well.”
No matter where one looks, a chance for holiday traditions old and new.
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