5 cool ways to light up your holiday season

It's the most decorative time of the year

It's the most wonderful time of the year — finals week stress is in full swing, everyone you've ever met is sick and you're pretty sure that you're failing seven classes even though you're only enrolled in five.

Need a way out of that end-of-semester slump? Check out these five wonderful ways to light up your holiday season in the Phoenix metro area (you might even start believing in Santa again):

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1. Deck the halls with other people in your residence community

Living on campus and haven't seen your neighbors since move-in week? As the semester creeps closer to December, check your resident hall's Facebook page or floor group chat to see if your Community Assistant is planning any sort of holiday decorating party. 

This can be a great way to add some festivity to those bland off-white hallways, and in the process, reconnect with all those cool people around you just as you start to forget why you came to college in the first place.

Jackie Martin, who has been a Barrett, the Honors College Community Assistant for two years, said she always organizes a decorating event around the holidays because of how beneficial it is for community health.

"It's a fun, creative outlet around finals time that gives residents a way to relax and spend some time with people they don't usually see," Martin said.

Is your CA just as stressed as you are and not planning anything? Put down your textbook for a little while and suggest an event, or just decorate your room yourself with what you have around the dorm. 'Tis the season to be creative!

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2. Have a white Christmas at the Tempe Marketplace

I usually wait until after Thanksgiving to set up my tree, but Tempe Marketplace is getting a jump on the Christmas season with their annual Holiday Tree Lighting this Wednesday.

Just a short bus ride away from the Tempe campus, the Tempe Marketplace is a bastion of retail therapy and date night ideas for students, especially because 30 stores in the mall offer student discounts when you show a student ID. On Nov. 23, go get a jump on your holiday shopping and enjoy one of the first — and free — festive events of the season.

Beginning at 6:30 p.m. at the District Stage, there will be a professional ice skating show on the ice rink that will be open to the public for the rest of the season. Immediately following, the 60-foot Christmas tree will be lit up for the first time this year, and then magically, snow will fall to blanket the whole mall. Who said Phoenix would never get a white Christmas?

Emilie Andrews, the senior marketing director for Tempe Marketplace, shared excitement for the whole holiday season at the Marketplace.

"We'll kick off the holidays with the Nov. 23 event, and then have a lot of fun events lined up the whole month of December you just can't miss," Andrews said.

While the holiday tree lighting is going on, feel free to browse around the mall and enjoy the snow (and discounts). If you can't make it to this event, it'll be snowing at the Marketplace from 7-8 p.m. every evening through New Years', and there are  several other events coming up through December, such as the Santa Soiree. Learn more here.

3. Lions and tigers and Christmas lights, oh my!

Who could forget Zoolights, a Phoenix Zoo holiday tradition nearly 25 years in the making? Also opening this Wednesday, Nov. 23, and running through Jan. 8, Zoolights features over one million lights, hundreds of lighted sculptures handmade by zoo employees and entertainment like movie screenings and live music performances.

And of course, the main attraction: getting to glimpse some animals — if they aren't already napping. Stingray Bay will be lit up for the season, and there will be various other animal-based events such as cattle rides for the children.

Ticket costs vary over the season depending on whether the night is considered peak traffic or not, but range between $13-$20 for non-zoo members, which makes Zoolights just as cheap on off-nights as a trip to the movies or dining out.

While Zoolights might primarily seem to appeal to families with children, don't think that just because you're in college you've outgrown it. Linda Hardwick, the director of communications for the Zoo, reiterated that Zoolights has lots of fun to offer anyone this holiday season.

"You get to experience the Zoo surrounded by beautiful lights and sculptures," Hardwick said. "Zoolights is for anyone of any age to enjoy with friends, a date or even alone."

4. Eat, drink and be merry in Mesa on Merry Main Street

Wallet hurting after buying Christmas gifts and your Zoolights admission? Another free event is happening in Mesa, kicking off on Black Friday (Nov. 25). It's called Merry Main Street and will be a month of food truck vendors, live entertainment, Santa Claus and more ice skating. It begins on Friday with another holiday tree lighting — perfect if you can't make it to Tempe Marketplace on Wednesday.

Not quite convinced? On select weekends, the Valley Metro Light Rail fare to the nearest Merry Main Street stop will be absolutely free!

This is a great way to see part of the Phoenix metro area ASU students might not visit frequently, and join the holiday fun without your bank account calling you in tears.

On Dec. 10-11, there will also be the Mesa Arts Festival in the same area, and that's just one of the other exciting events happening this holiday season in Mesa. Keep up to date with all other events here.

5. Help transform Mill Ave into a winter wonderland with the Fantasy of Lights parade

It may come last on the list, but this is one event you just can't miss. Tempe campus students' beloved Mill Avenue — and the entire downtown Tempe area— comes alive with lights this Saturday at the Fantasy of Lights parade.

A Tempe tradition for over two decades, Nov. 26 marks the night when the Mill Avenue trees, adorned with thousands of lights, are lit up for the rest of the season. The parade, which begins at Rio Salado Parkway and heads south, features marching bands and a variety of floats.

The Fantasy of Lights will take to the Tempe Town Lake on Dec. 10, with a motorized boat parade containing over 50 boats, a fireworks finale and live entertainment.

The Fantasy of Lights — both by land and by sea — is free, right in the Tempe campus's backyard and is a fun way to participate in the traditions of downtown Tempe.

These five ways to light up your holiday season are not the end-all-be-all of fun holiday events to do in Phoenix. Check out this continuously updated list of events all around the Valley — just because you live in the desert doesn't mean you can't be as jolly as Santa in the North Pole this holiday season.


Reach the reporter at cagoldin@asu.edu or follow @auruming on Twitter.

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