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Lubbock Lights

Four luminous events in the Lubbock area herald the holidays
Written by Nola McKey.

Ten miles east of Lubbock, the town of Ransom Canyon presents an unusual display each December: three tiers of light reflected in a 93-acre lake. (Photo by Kevin Stillman)

While South Plains settlers in the 1880s took a minimalist approach to holiday decorating—they were lucky to find a cedar tall enough to serve as a Christmas tree—today’s residents enjoy a bit more bling. In fact, the Lubbock area boasts four sparkling celebrations that light up the skies each December. After attending all four last year, I can tell you that participating in even one of these events will make your holidays a little brighter.

For jump-starting holiday spirit, I recommend the Carol of Lights, an evening event held on the Texas Tech University campus during the first week in December (December 3, 2011). Enjoy the camaraderie of the crowd gathered in the darkened Science Quadrangle as you listen to a stirring carillon concert. Performances by chorales and instrumental ensembles follow from the balcony of the Geosciences Building in the center. It’s sometimes more than a little chilly, but the shivering is worth it, when a switch is thrown at the finale and 25,000 red, orange, and white LED lights suddenly outline the 13 buildings that surround Memorial Circle, enveloping you and your fellow celebrants in a warm glow. Moments like these spark the sense of wonder that lies at the heart of the season.

A tradition for more than a half-century, the Carol of Lights marks the beginning of the holidays for many area residents. Multiple generations turn out for the event, creating a feeling of continuity that inspires hope for the future. After the initial unveiling, the architectural silhouette glitters nightly through January 1, meaning holiday light-seekers can circle through campus and enjoy the spectacle as often as they like.

More lights await 10 miles east of Lubbock, in the town of Ransom Canyon. The drive from Lubbock is a treat anytime, with the landscape suddenly changing from flat to fabulous as you enter the canyonlands on the eastern edge of the Llano Estacado. In Ransom Canyon, three tiers of homes surround a 93-acre lake. And during December, homeowners here join together to present a light show like no other.

Sparkling lights adorn the exterior of most homes, resulting in three levels of illumination that encircle the lake, which reflects the scene. People drive from Lubbock and elsewhere on the South Plains to see the sights throughout the month, but the main event is the Christmas Tour of Homes, held the second week of December (December 8, 2011). The tour, which benefits the Ransom Canyon Memorial Chapel, spotlights four homes decked out in their holiday best.           

I met event co-chairman Carol Farris, my guide for the evening, just before dusk at the Ransom Canyon firehouse. It was a clear night with just a touch of crispness in the air. I was eager to see the first house on the tour, which Farris informed me had “one of the best views of the canyon.”

Sure enough, the backyard of the newly remodeled home on the canyon rim offered sweeping views of the dramatic townscape. Inside the house, I counted 14 Christmas trees, including one upturned and hanging above the dining-room table. In the powder room, twinkling lights revealed a giant teddy bear that appeared to 
be soaking in a tub filled with bubbles and baubles.

Each homeowner on the tour took a different approach to decorating: We also saw a contemporary home with understated holiday decor; a Southwest-style home with accents from nature; and a Mediterranean-style, lakeside home that featured a 12-foot-tall tree and European antiques. Our final stop was at the Ransom Canyon Memorial Chapel, where we sipped hot apple cider and sampled homemade cookies. A three-room, stone building nestled among willows, cottonwoods, and mesquites, the chapel offers nondenominational services on Sunday mornings.

If you miss the open-house tour, don’t worry. Residents leave the lights on until 11 p.m. nightly through Christmas, and the driving tours allow you to see the real star of this holiday display—the special setting of Ransom Canyon itself.

The next lighting venue—a planned community in southwest Lubbock called Vintage Township—began taking shape in 2006 and is still growing. It features a blend of traditional architecture, with homes built around multiple green spaces. The scenic neighborhood offers a number of annual events, including Winter Won-derland, which has a slate of activities throughout December. When I heard about carriage rides and an Enchanted Forest (in Lubbock!), I knew I had to check it out.

The festivities begin with the Grand Illumination of the Enchanted Forest during the first week in December (December 2, 2011). I missed last year’s kickoff by a few days, but the following weekend, I caught one of the 20-minute light shows featuring 
the more than 50 “Christmas trees” that make up the Enchanted Forest. Formed of LED lights synchronized to music by the Trans-Siberian Or-chestra, the trees range in height from two feet to 10 feet and turn from red to blue to gold to green, delighting onlookers.

“I liked watching the colors dance,” eight-year-old Bailey Purdon told me afterwards. “The lights were everywhere!”

The smells of hot chocolate and fresh-baked sugar cookies beckoned from an outdoor concession stand, where I met Vintage Township manager Tana Patterson. I joined her for a carriage ride, and as the horses clip-clopped along the picturesque streets, she told me about other attractions offered during the month: visits with Santa and Mrs. Claus, a “magical snow machine,” carolers, musical ensembles, and a Holiday Homes Tour.

Vintage Township’s version of holiday entertainment may be new on the Lubbock scene, but the traditional flavor seems right at home here.

I’ve attended Candlelight at the Ranch at Texas Tech’s National Ranching Heritage Center several times, but last year I invited my Lubbock niece, Erin Braddock, along to share the experience. We joined some 8,000 visitors who turned out over the course of two evenings to catch a glimpse of Christmas past.

Luminaria-outlined pathways stretched before us as we entered the historical park, which boasts 48 authentic ranching structures dating from the 1780s through the 1950s. During Candlelight at the Ranch, the staff decorates 15 of the buildings, each according to the era it represents. Costumed docents take their places inside, reading by lantern light, sewing by a fireplace, strumming softly on a guitar. Visitors move from site to site, watching from outside at most places. Even on mild December nights, the cozy scenes always have made me yearn to go inside.

Music drew us to the 80 John Wallace House, a small, wooden structure with a tin roof built in 1900 in Mitchell County, and occupied by “80 John” Wallace, a highly respected and deeply spiritual rancher. The home was moved to the NRHC in 2009. On the porch, a tumbleweed decorated with buttons and strips of fabric sufficed for a Christmas tree, and a docent dressed in overalls sang gospel songs a cappella, his rich, bass voice captivating passersby.

Compared to this modest building, the two-and-a-half-story Barton House (1909, Hale County) that lay to the north appeared majestic. One of the few structures at the NRHC lit by electricity, the Barton House hummed with activity. In one room, a docent played a piano, accompanied by a fiddle player. In another room, several women sat at a round table, doing needlework. They kept stitching, even as we walked around the festively decorated home, admiring a six-foot Christmas tree and Victorian details from wallpaper to wainscoting.

Looking through the windows of Las Escarbadas (1886, Deaf Smith County), a spacious, stone house that served as a division headquarters for the famed XIT Ranch, we watched several pioneer couples waltz-ing to the sounds of three fiddles in the dining room, while a woman prepared food in the attached kitchen. Another woman sat nearby, doing needlework by lantern light. “How did they see?” I wondered aloud to Erin.

At the Pitchfork Cookhouse (c. 1900, Dickens County), a white, wooden building where cowboys on the Pitchfork Ranch ate daily meals until the structure was moved to the NRHC in 2008, a screen door revealed long tables flanked by benches. In a scene meant to reflect life here in the 1950s, a cowboy sat at one of the tables playing solitaire, while a woman—likely the ranch manager’s wife—iced cupcakes. 
At the far end of the building, a group gathered around a piano and sang “Frosty the Snowman.”

Our last stop was the Four Sixes Barn, where we warmed up with hot chocolate and compared notes on our favorite sites and sights. Erin summed it up best: “I loved seeing how they celebrated through the different time periods,” she said, “but what really stood out for me was that at each place we stopped, it was all about family.” 

There you have it—Lubock Lights four ways. A far cry from the first holiday celebrations on the South Plains. Let there be light!

See related: Barton House Memories and Web Extra: The Original Lubbock Lights

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