Kylie Zhu with her winning holiday lights design, the Virginia Beach melting snowman. See her design large and fully lit beginning this weekend. Photo: Beach Events

Sixth Grader’s Doodle to be Unveiled as Beachfront Holiday Lights Display

It’s that time of year: holiday lights displays are being switched on throughout the Chesapeake Bay area.  In Virginia Beach, the Holiday Lights at the Beach boardwalk light show is popular. This year it’s extra special for sixth grader Kylie Zhu. Her doodle of a melting snowman has been transformed into one of the 25 new lighted features on display this year. And visitors will see it unveiled this Thursday evening.

Zhu, a student at Old Donation School in Virginia Beach, is known for doodling. She draws something almost every day on notecards or scrap paper. When she heard about a contest to enter ideas for the boardwalk light show, she entered an elegant but playful sketch of a melting snowman. The snowman is shaded by a large-brimmed hat with a bird perched on top. Zhu explained that the bird is a cardinal, Virginia’s state bird.  She also explained that the melting snowman represents the heat in Virginia Beach each summer.   

And she won the contest. William Younce, director of Beach Events, the contractor who puts on the light show  the city, explained the process. 

The city recently brought back an art contest for the Holiday Lights at the Beach display.

“The city had incorporated an art contest into the light show, but it was discontinued in 2013. We decided to bring the art contest back this year. We needed some new displays. We reached out to the Virginia Beach school system’s art department. Eight schools participated, submitting 50 entries. All the submissions were good, but everyone loved Zhu’s melting snowman.” 

Zhu’s melting snowman sketch will be transformed into a light display that is 17 feet tall and 14 feet wide. It is being created by artist and business owner Andy Vakos. Vakos owns a hotel in Virginia Beach, but spends his free time welding creative art. He is building a grid that will support the lighted snowman.

What does it look like? You’ll have to wait and see when it’s put on display for the first time this Thursday, November 16th

On Thursday, there will be a free bicycle-only preview of the light show. Cyclists of all ages are invited to get a first look at the show starting at 5:30. Participants will enter the show at 9th Street, pedal north through the lights, turn around, and return on the bike path. There will be another opportunity for cyclists to enjoy the lights on January 1, 2024 from 5-7 p.m. during the free Holiday Bike Night finale. Younce noted that the cycling events were very popular last year, with over 1,000 riders in attendance.  

For those who want to enjoy the lights from the comfort and warmth of their automobiles, the show opens to vehicles on Friday the 17th.  Holiday music will be paired with jumping fish, musical crabs and jolly elves right next to the Atlantic Ocean and its surf. Visitors will also see a Surfing Santa, color-changing archways, light fixtures that pay tribute to our local military, and a 40-foot dancing-light Christmas tree. According to Beach Events, there will be a timed entry to avoid wait times and traffic jams.

You can get tickets in advance at  If you want to help fight hunger in the area, consider visiting on Dec. 10, when Food Lion will be accepting donations of money and food. 

-Kendall Osborne