Lights. Music. Cookies. Santa. No, it's not a holiday movie.
It's the Florida Botanical Gardens Holiday Lights in the Gardens' illuminated display. A half-million holiday lights shine on the faces of tropical flowers, drape palm fronds and create holiday displays.
This year will feature a special celebration marking the 10th anniversary of the Florida Botanical Gardens.
"The big change in the garden this year is that most lights have been replaced with LEDs," said Chuck Scaffidi, chairman of the Florida Botanical Gardens Foundation. "And we've gone from about 425,000 lights to 500,000. Every year, we try to do it bigger and better."
To kick off the grand opening weekend, today through Sunday, a train display, gratis of the Tampa Division of the Florida Garden Railway Society, will chug around the main holiday tree in the Wedding Garden.
Volunteer entertainers will perform throughout the five-week event. They include church choirs, accordion players, ballet dancers, Middle Eastern dancers and the 4-H Ballroom Bicycle Brigade. Santa is planning many visits.
As recently as 2008, the holiday lights display almost didn't go on. The Botanical Gardens Foundation, which sponsors the event, stepped in to cover the $25,000 cost. Since then, donations have kept the event self-sustaining.
Last year's 30-night event brought in about $60,000, said Scaffidi, who co-chairs the event with Vivian Haicken. Most of that money goes directly to the holiday lights.
"We have a contractor install the lights," Scaffidi said. "We did see a profit of about a third and that money goes back into the gardens. Due to the terrible cold last winter, we lost a lot of plants. Using that money, they've already been replaced."
Want plants to take home? The Botanical Gardens Gift and Plant sale will be in the formal gardens from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Dec. 12. Think orchids, bromeliads, native Florida plants. Herbs and citrus, too.
Admission is free during daylight hours. Feel guilty about leaving your dog at home? For $10 a dog, register that pooch for the Botanical Garden's Dog Parade at 3 p.m. Dec. 26. Prizes will be awarded for Best Dressed, Largest, Smallest, and Best Ability to Understand the Owner is Boss.
As economic doldrums continue for many, the lights do more than just brighten the season.
"It's nice," said Mary Burrell. Pinellas County spokeswoman, "to have a positive family event to offer the public this year."