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Austin's Trail of Lights: How 'Yule Fest' 1965 became the holiday celebration we know today

For several years, it was possible to drive through the Trail of Lights. But with heavy traffic, it often became a "trail of tail lights."

AUSTIN, Texas — The seeds of our modern-day Trail of Lights were planted in 1965, the year that “Yule Fest” began in Zilker Park with the lighting of the yule log and serenades by local choirs.

“Yule Fest” – also known as “The Spirit of Christmas” – would eventually morph into the Trail of Lights, which officially received that designation in 1992.

For several years, it was possible to drive through the Trail of Lights. But with heavy traffic, it often became a “trail of tail lights,” and vehicles were eventually banned.

It may be hard to believe, but the wildly popular holiday attraction almost came to a sudden end. In 2009, the City of Austin, facing a budget crunch, staged a scaled-back Trial of Lights and then canceled the event entirely in 2010 and 2011.

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But in 2012, the lights came back on, thanks to business sponsorships and private donations. Now, the Trail of Lights Foundation raises the money and produces the extravaganza that features more than 2,000,000 lights and many more family attractions.

With around 425,000 visitors each year, many believe that it has become Austin's most popular community celebration of the holidays.

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