Winter Lights draws holiday crowds
Yusi An may have started the Magical Winter Lights, a yearly light festival in Galveston County, with a background in public relations and marketing, but after nearly four years of dazzling residents with larger-than-life lantern exhibits, carnival rides and family memories, she now seems to be an expert in holiday cheer.
The spark which eventually grew into a full-fledged holiday attraction came from a love of tradition and maybe a tinge of homesickness.
“I grew up going to lantern festivals in China,” she said. “They are beautiful. The lanterns are so intricate and the experience is so unique. I wanted to share that experience with people here, because Houston is my home.”
An, who is the founder and executive producer of the festival, said that she felt the people of the Houston area would accept and embrace the tradition.
“Something that I love about Houston and the whole surrounding area really is that it is so diverse and people are so accepting of other cultures,” she said. “Not only that but they’re interested in other cultures and want to share some of those experiences; so we did our research, secured the funding and gave it a try. It was a success.”
An moved the festival to Gulf Greyhound Park in La Marque in 2016.
“We have so much support and the community has also really welcomed us,” she said.
Magical Winter Lights is a lantern festival, but An assures that it isn’t like any lantern you’ve pictured before.
“We send these plans to lantern technicians in the city my family is from,” she said. “These are extremely intricate, very large designs — some of them 40-to-60-feet tall.”
“Pictures don’t do it justice,” she said.
Eight themed lantern areas boast an estimated 6 million lights. There are a popular dinosaur area, a large palace, an ice area, an undersea exhibit and a Houston-themed exhibit. Carnival rides and two 40-minute Chinese acrobatics performances are offered nghtly.
“It’s amazing that we’ve been able to grow so much in four years,” she said.
The family connection she feels to the festival is an added bonus.
“This takes a village,” she said. “I look around and think, ‘how did we do this?’ and it’s amazing. My family loves it, and we love being able to share part of our culture with people who are interested. It’s really a joyful job — by spreading joy we get that joy back in return.”
Because the festival draws people from as far as Cypress and Sugar Land — and most visitors show up between 6 and 8 p.m., An recommends getting there when the grounds open at 5 to avoid lines.
“The lines move fast though — it’s not bad,” she said.
Time is something An is incredibly familiar with.
“The show runs for two months and I spend 10 months getting ready for the next one,” she said. “We’re sending off designs to lantern techs, creating new themes, hiring staff — I don’t even have time to decorate my own house.”
Parking is at Gulf Greyhound park and cost $5 in cash. Tickets can be purchased online at www.magicalwinterlights.com or at the festival with credit card. ATMs are available on site.