MSU-Burns Fantasy of Lights to be a bright spot at close of 2020

Fantasy of Lights opens Nov. 23

MSU-Burns Fantasy of Lights to be a bright spot at close of 2020

As 2020 comes to a close, one bright light will shine, or really 20,000 lights plus the 45 magical displays that grace the front lawn of the Hardin Administration Building at Midwestern State University.

The MSU-Burns Fantasy of Lights will continue its tradition of brightening the holiday season beginning Monday, Nov. 23. This year marks the 46th anniversary of MSU Texas’ association with the tradition begun by Wichita Falls businessman L.T. Burns and his wife Lillian in the 1920s.

As in the past, MSU’s carillonneur Jim Quashnock will begin the festivities at 5:30 p.m. with holiday music on the Redwine Carillon in the Hardin Administration Building tower. At 6 p.m., MSU Texas President Suzanne Shipley flip the switch that will illuminate the Hardin lawn, but the ceremony will be streamed via Facebook Live to minimize the usually large opening night attendance.

“A lot of what we’ve done in the past will carry on,” said Dirk Welch, Fantasy of Lights Director. “But it will be in a subdued way.” Opening night activities such as school choir performances and food trucks have been cancelled to mitigate the spread of COVID-19. Santa Claus will not be able to make the trip to visit with children from his special chair.

Fantasy of Lights

For those visiting the lights, facial coverings will be required, along with practicing social distancing.

A new picture spot will debut this season, Santa’s Toys, thanks to the Rider High School Key Club.

Wichita Falls Independent School District’s Career Education Center continued its tradition of contributing to the Fantasy of Lights by refurbishing the Nutcracker Carousel, the Little Engine that Could, and Peter Pan. In place of the usual community work day, trustees from the Wichita County jail cleaned and painted displays.

The Polar Bear Express trolley will run from 6-10 p.m. Thanksgiving, Nov. 26, through Christmas night. The University has approved the operators’ proposed precautions for spacing and cleaning. Facial coverings will be required. Tickets are $5. Check online for updates for location.

Admission to the Fantasy of Lights is free. Donations are welcomed and needed to maintain the displays, and to keep the Fantasy of Lights a successful holiday tradition. Although no boot collectors will be on duty this year, donations may still be made using the special boxes stationed in the displays or online.

The displays will be turned on seven days a week from dusk to 10 p.m. through Saturday, Dec. 26. Special daytime requests have been suspended this season. For more information visit the Fantasy of Lights website or call 940-397-4352. 

Fun Run

The 5K & 1-Mile Fun Run has gone virtual this year. It can be completed at any location, at any pace, either outside or on a treadmill during the race window, which is between opening night Nov. 23 and Dec. 26, closing night.

Registration for the 5K is $25, and $15 for the 1-mile fun run. The first 100 who register will receive a special MSU-Burns Fantasy of Lights branded fandana neck gaiter. Register online.

It is still possible to participate in the fastest 5K time and the best and worst holiday-themed attire contests by submitting times and photos to the race page. A $25 gift card will be awarded to the fastest male and female 5K runners, the best dressed holiday-themed male and female participants, and the worst dressed holiday-themed male and female participants. All registration proceeds help support the MSU-Burns Fantasy of Lights. Winners will be announced via email on Jan. 5, 2021. 

History of the Lights

In the 1920s when the Burns were newlyweds, they could only afford to place a single bulb on a tree on the front porch as a Christmas decoration. With Burns’ success in the oil industry, the couple began adding more lights and displays each year. He died in a car accident in 1954, but Mrs. Burns continued adding to the displays at their home on Clarinda Avenue and Harrison Street. After her death in 1971, the lights were left to her son, who died in 1974. The lights were then in the care of Archer City. The town offered the lights to Midwestern on the condition that they be operated free of charge as a memorial to Mrs. Burns. A photo of Mrs. Burns greeting visitors is posted near the welcome sign. Today, descendants of the Burns are active in the Fantasy of Lights work and sponsor several of the displays.