Fantasy of Lights continues 48 year long tradition


Colin Stevenson

Characters from Disney’s “Frozen” stand on a display and move to music from the film at the 2021 MSU Fantasy of Lights, Nov. 30.

The Fantasy of Lights has arrived on campus, for its annual Winter presence, where students can buy hot cocoa, ride a trolley around the neighborhood’s light fixings, and peruse the attractions and sculptures, depicting scenes from animated movies and Christmas iconography. A Wichita Falls tradition, this year is the 48th Fantasy of Lights, beginning in 1974 when the Burns family donated a pool of displays. Dirk Welch is coordinating the 48th Fantasy of Lights and says the number of displays has more than doubled since 1974.

“Twenty-one displays have been added to the collection with 10 of these displays debuting in the past five years,” Welch said. “Typically a few over the past few seasons, we have been blessed to be able to add at least one new display annually.”

The original Burns displays were built by the employees of the family estate, 21 displays out of the 46. Welch believes the Wichita Falls community is the lifeblood of the custom.

Snow White and the Seven Dwarves sit on a miniature ferris wheel at the 2021 MSU Fantasy of Lights.
Snow White and the Seven Dwarves sit on a miniature ferris wheel at the 2021 MSU Fantasy of Lights, Nov. 30. (Colin Stevenson)

“All expenses are paid for by the donations received each fantasy of lights season,” Welch said.  “It often takes virtually every penny raised to refurbish, maintain and showcase the displays.  The generous giving of our community is vital to keeping this beloved tradition alive.”

With the added restrictions due to Covid, Welch says he’s committed to solving any challenges in the way of visitors enjoying the displays.

“Through the collective effort of so many contributors to the MSU-Burns Fantasy of Lights, any challenges that arise leading up to and throughout the season are met and overcome ensuring visitors to the lights have a joyful and memorable experience,” Welch said.

With some complications naturally arising last year with the pandemic, Welch and colleagues have adapted to the changes and opened the Fantasy of Lights with added activities along with the attractions.

“For instance, an in-person opening ceremony, a visit by Santa Claus for pictures, several food trucks, and musical performances through the season all make a return this year,” Welch said.  “A carry over from last year, a refined walking route, has helped keep foot traffic moving in a more orderly manner, [leading to] better social distancing and less crowding around the displays.”

Being a tradition, many MSU students who grew up in Wichita Falls were the first to continue their annual visit.

“I’ve gone to the Fantasy of Lights literally every year since I moved here,” Kyanna Grice, a nursing major, said.  “I think some lights should be replaced, but I like the experience as a whole.”

Cinderella's glass slipper sits in a case on display at the 2021 MSU Fantasy of Lights.
Cinderella’s glass slipper sits in a case on display at the 2021 MSU Fantasy of Lights, Nov. 30. (Colin Stevenson)

While the Fantasy of Lights is familiar to long-time Wichita Falls residents, many students who come from out of town have enjoyed the experience as well.  Dannika Matin is an English junior who moved to MSU from Burleson.

“The Fantasy of Lights was a fun memory I can share with my group of friends,” Matin said.  “It was my first time going, and it definitely added to my college experience.”

While students from Wichita Falls and beyond enjoy their visit to the Fantasy of Lights, Welch also enjoyed the experience of coordinating the event.

“I feel privileged to be part of such an amazing and long-standing tradition,” Welch said.  “Seeing the wonder and joy in the faces of young and old alike helps keep my spirits high during each holiday season.”

The Fantasy of Lights will be open from November 22 to December 26th.