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James Center Lights

Nine Zillion Light Bulbs

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Every year, for the last 14 years anyway, grown-ups have piled children into cars and made a pilgrimage downtown to see the spectacular display of faux deer grazing and lounging about in a forest of white lights outside the James Center. Sure, there are garish displays out in suburbia, but this city scene is so peaceful that, in a time of great stress, it's the perfect elixir.

Of course, if you're looking for that aforementioned peace, you may want to avoid opening night, Dec. 3. But for those who are up for the whole holiday enchilada, do make plans to venture down Cary Street on that night. Cruising down Cary, you'll see the first of many deer at Ninth Street. They are there between Ninth and Tenth and also in the plaza between Tenth and Twelfth streets. A Grand Illumination is planned for 6 to 7 p.m. With the flip of a switch, millions of tiny lights and 100 whimsical reindeer will be lighted, and the festivities will begin.

According to coordinator Robin Austin of Trammell Crow Co., this year there'll be four choirs, clowns, magicians, holiday food, Santa, Snow Bear, the Snow Queen and Scooby Doo. For the energetic, there'll be a merry-go-round, Ferris wheel, horse and wagon rides, train rides and a petting zoo, which includes a camel and a llama.

This year, another event will add to the evening of Dec. 3. Called Celebrate … Illuminate, this bonus element stretches the festivities along the River District, from the James Center, through Shockoe Slip to the Canal Turning Basin and then up to the Farmer's Market for a "unique shopping extravaganza," 5-9 p.m. There'll be artists' wares, purveyors of fresh produce, honey, cheeses, breads, herbs, plants, holiday trees, wreaths, antiques and collectibles.

Mayor Tim Kaine will light the Market tree at 7:30 p.m. In addition to walking tours, there will be trolleys linking each site and parking will be available at all sites.

Expanding on the deer-lighting concept is a welcome turn of events, says Austin. "In the past, after the Grand Illumination, people would say, 'Now what do we do?'" This year, they'll have plenty to keep them

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