I’ve driven past the Winterhaven neighborhood probably hundreds of times. It’s relatively central for Tucson, a small residential area with oddly curved streets within the greater grid, just shy of the more affluent Catalina foothills. Probably ninety percent of those times I didn’t give the neighborhood a second thought; true, it has unusually tall trees for a city in the desert (it’s almost like a little forest, in a sense), but I never had a single 911 call there in all my time as an EMT. For a few weeks during the holidays, though, it’s one of the most noticeable spots in the city.
From mid-December through New Years Eve, Winterhaven is lit up like a, well, Christmas tree. Each house competes with the next to have the most elaborate holiday display, complete with unusual colors (lots of violet this year!), lights clear up to the stop of multi-story-tall trees, and complicated frameworks. Needless to say, if you had been ingesting the right sort of substance, it would completely blow your mind. Rainbows of color chase each other from bush to eave to branch, and cascade like waterfalls down trees both organic and man-made. Some houses drip with color as if they were decorated with fiber optic icicles, and others just shine brightly enough that you’d except to feel heat when you step into their glow.
Of course, there are also little islands that have perhaps less lights, but more cleverness and humor. These range from Hanukkah-decorated houses, like one promoting peace in both Hebrew and Arabic, to puns on the “Twelve Days of Christmas” (we had to stop and blink for a bit at the eight-maids-a-milking). There was even,oddly, a singing, animated jack-o-lantern face for the requisite musical house, I suppose in place of the more Christmas-y Trans-Siberian Orchestra of years past.
We did our art gallery-style slow meander on foot, but for the sore of sole there are certain nights set aside for driving your car through, and also Tombstone Trolleys and jeep-pulled wagons. There were once horses, but for some unknown reason no longer; I like to imagine they were rampantly stealing peoples’ snacks. Speaking of snacks, as with any good Tucson event, food trucks abound like volunteer plants after a monsoon. We came across (and enjoyed) hot cider from Common Grounds Espresso Co., cupcakes by Trucking Good Cupcakes, various kettle corn peddlers, and even fancy, elaborate hot dogs by You Sly Dog. I had a Hot Link absolutely covered in a variety of spicy condiments, but I wasn’t going to go near the one with ghost chili sauce on it – the one I had was well enough to warm me up. And, speaking of warmth, it pays to Boy Scout it and be prepared for the weather when you do Winterhaven…its name has been known to be particularly apt, in a chilly sense.
The cold doesn’t have to be off-putting, however. It can make a romantic date nice and cozy, for one. And if the kids actually listen to their parents and put on their jackets, Winterhaven can be a perfect family activity (even bring the dog!), especially if there are out-of-town visitors. And, of course: it’s free!