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Web Extra: Holiday in the Falls

Texas Highways intern Elena Watts talked to Lindsay Greer, director of the Wichita Falls Convention & Visitors Bureau, to learn more about Holiday in the Falls. Guests and residents of the North Texas town enjoy more than a dozen holiday celebrations in December. Among them, the MSU-Burns Fantasy of Lights is a favorite.

Fantasy of Lights is one of the largest three-dimensional, animated, audible holiday displays in Texas. On Dec. 7, Hardin Tower’s hour-long ringing of the bells begins at 5 p.m., and the opening ceremony starts at 6 p.m. on the front steps of the Harding Building on the Midwestern State University campus. Santa visits for wish lists and photo ops, and the Fantasy of Lights Band Concert commences at 7 p.m. in Akin Auditorium.

In the late 1920s, Mr. and Mrs. L.T. Burns lit a single blue bulb on a holiday tree adorning the lawn of their modest home in celebration of the season, and the display continued to grow each year. When Mrs. Burns lost her husband in a tragic car accident in 1954, the holiday scene became a tribute to her late husband’s memory. She transformed her lawn into a fantasyland every year until 1971 when she passed away.

Mrs. Burns bequeathed the display to her son with the stipulation that he could donate it to Archer City, which he did. The community, 30 miles southwest of Wichita Falls, was home to many of the employees who worked on the Burns family estate. It remained in storage there until the Burns’ son passed away three years later, and the city donated it to Midwestern State University. The only condition was that the display be free and open to the public.

On Dec. 4, 1974, the university flipped the switch for the first time, illuminating its front lawn with the collection of scenes and its buildings with 20,000 string-lights. A nonprofit Fantasy of Lights Committee was formed to raise money for the repair and maintenance of the display. The committee continues to rely on the generosity of the Wichita Falls community for its operation.

Visitors can take in the 34 scenes from their cars on a closed-off section of Taft Boulevard, but Lindsay recommends they park and walk through the campus. The larger-than-life characters include three little dancing pigs, a piano-playing Santa Claus, and most recently, Scrooge’s workshop.

MSU-Burns Fantasy of Lights
Dec. 7 – Jan. 1, 2013
Mon-Thu, dusk until 10 p.m.
Fri-Sun, dusk until 11 p.m.
Midwestern State University campus

Fantasy of Lights Band Concert
Dec. 7, 7-9 p.m. (opening night of MSU-Burns light display)
Akins Auditorium on MSU campus

River Bend Nature Center’s 11th Annual ElectriCritters event also comes highly recommended. Through Dec. 22, more than 60,000 lights illuminate more than 150 silhouettes making for a fantastical nature hike with a holiday twist.
The concrete trail comes alive with the sounds and motions of well-lit critters including croaking frogs, howling wolves, and galloping reindeer. The treetops glow with pecking woodpeckers and hooting owls, while the pond is home to a dragon donning a Santa hat.
Children can roast marshmallows over a campfire, or they can schmooze Santa, Mrs. Claus, and Rudolph in the warmth of the Candy Cane Café. Hot chocolate, apple cider, s’mores, popcorn, holiday gifts, and stocking stuffers are available for purchase.

Nov. 23 – Dec. 22
Fri & Sat, 6-8 p.m.
River Bend Nature Center
$4 advance/$5 gate/Kids 2 & under free.

Wichita Falls neighborhoods that dazzle during the holidays include:

Morningside Luminarias, Sat & Sun, Dec. 8 & 9, 6:30-9 p.m.
(Inclement weather: Dec. 15 & 16)
For three decades, 1,500 candles in white bags have illuminated the tree-lined, winding streets of this historic neighborhood during the holidays, showcasing homes of different architectural styles dating to 1919.

Country Club Estates, featuring some of the city’s oldest, stateliest homes decorated beautifully for the holidays.

Silkes Estates
Neighbors join together to decorate their yards with miles of lighted candy canes.

Tanglewood & Canyon Trails
Decorated homes on the hillsides of these two neighborhoods showcase newer, more modern structures in secluded settings.

Other Holiday in the Falls events include:

Texas Christmas’ Past
Nov. 17-Dec. 29
Tue-Fri, 10 a.m.-noon & 1-4 p.m.
Sat, 10 a.m.–4 p.m.
The Museum of North Texas History

Santa’s Mailbox
Nov. 19-Dec. 15
Daily, 9 a.m.-11:30 p.m.
Children drop their letters to Santa in a holiday mailbox located at the Fantasy of Lights display on the MSU campus. Santa and his elves write back when they include self-addressed stamped envelope.

Santa House
Nov. 27-Dec. 7
Weekdays, 9 a.m.-12:30 p.m.
Fri, 6-8 p.m.
Sat, 10 a.m.-3 p.m.
Sun, 1-3 p.m.
(Tours begin every 15 minutes)
Kell House Museum
This year’s Christmas-themed play is “The Magical Rocking Horse Part III” performed by ACTors Creating Together. After the show, visitors chat with Santa, enjoy a special treat with Mrs. Claus, and make an ornament to take home.

Wichita West Arts & Craft Show
Sat, Dec. 1, 10 a.m.-6 p.m.
Sun, Dec. 2, noon-5 p.m.
MPEC J.S. Bridwell Ag Center
Visitors shop for seasonal décor and holiday gifts including one-of-a-kind handmade crafts while supporting a good cause, the Wichita Falls Volunteer Fire Department.

The Nutcracker
Sat, Dec. 1, 8-10:30 p.m.
Memorial Auditorium
$25, $20, $15
(Cash or check only)

MSU Combined Choir Concert
Sun, Dec. 2, 3-4:30 p.m.
Akin Auditorium on MSU campus
MSU Combined Choirs present a seasonal concert for the public.

Miracle on 34th Street
Sat & Sun, Dec. 7-8, 14-15, 21-22, 7:30 p.m.  
Sat, Dec. 15 & 22, 2:30 p.m.
Wichita Theatre Performing Arts Center
$21 & $18/adults, $10/children
A holiday classic performed on a live stage.

Christmas in the Park & Candy Cane Scramble
Sat, Dec. 8, 1-3 p.m.
Scotland Park
Children two years old through the second grade are invited to scramble through the park collecting as many of the 10,000 candy canes as they can find. Children of all ages enjoy a holiday train, carnival games, and arts & crafts. Santa is on hand to supervise.

Wichita Falls Symphony Orchestra
Sat, Dec. 8, 8-10:30 p.m.
Memorial Auditorium
$25 & $30 regular admission/ $22.50 senior & military/ $5 student
Combined choirs of Wichita Falls high schools join the symphony orchestra for evening of Christmas and seasonal favorites accompanied by the Wichita Falls Youth Symphony Orchestra.

Christmas Tour of Homes
Tue, Dec. 11, noon-8 p.m.
The 33rd Annual Christmas Tour of Homes invites guests to visit private homes decorated for the holidays in the Wichita Falls area.

Candlelight Tours at the Kell House
Sat, Dec. 22, 6-8 p.m.
Kell House Museum
Experience an early 20th-Century holiday with the lights turned down for a guided candlelight tour.

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