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Christmas displays illuminate Oklahoma homes and communities

Tonkawa By Laura Araujo

nip in the air, the aroma of pine and freshly baked cookies, packages un- der the tree for children to shake and rattle in anticipation, lights twinkling against the dark night sky. Christmas has returned. Donning an evergreen with lights is a centuries- old tradition that predates electricity. In Victorian times, people fastened candles to a tree to illuminate it. Fortunately, electricity has made this tradition sig- nifi cantly safer. Today, incandescent and LED bulbs light up trees, homes and even entire cities at Christ- mas time. Many Oklahoma towns boast beautiful holiday light displays. According to Austin Tackett, travel communications coordinator at the Oklahoma Tourism and Recreation Department, they’re not only picturesque, but also essential to the economy of Oklahoma cities.


“Festivals are a big deal for tourism. Christmas light displays fi ll in the gap between travel seasons,” Tackett said. “What’s great is that they fi ll it for 30- plus days in a row.”

Lights Unite Kingfi sher As early as October, community members in King-

fi sher, Okla. gather in Kingfi sher Park, many times bundled in warm winter garb to help fend off the frigid temperatures. They join together in a common mission: hang two million lights in preparation for the Kingfi sher in Lights festival. The annual event, now in its 16th year, was the vision of one of King- fi sher’s residents, Rusty Sanders.

“We had been down to Chickasha and always ad- mired their lights. We wanted to get something like that going to bring people to town,” Sanders said. He joined forces with then chamber of commerce manager, Anita Long, to create a non-profi t organiza- tion called Kingfi sher in Lights, Inc. in 1996. Those in charge of the Festival of Light in Chickasha, Okla. shared valuable information to help get Kingfi sher’s


light display off the ground. The support of community members was also crucial. Sanders and Long called a town meeting and local businesses and families spon- sored many of the displays. “We asked for volunteers and half of the town showed up,” Sanders said.

Kingfi sher Muskogee

satisfaction when people come through and they’re just awed.”

A Renaissance Light Tour The six-tenths of a mile

According to chamber of commerce manager Judy Whipple, the Kingfi sher in Lights festival has accom- plished the goal of attracting visitors to town. “It brings a lot of people to Kingfi sher,” she said. “We have a lot of tour buses come. Some of the tours come and spend the afternoon and go to the museum or shop downtown, have dinner and then go through the lights.”

Betty Harris, president of Kingfi sher in Lights, es- timates that between seven and eight thousand cars drive through the display each year. While donations are appreciated and help to im- prove the event for future years, there is no charge to view the lights. For a small fee, visitors to King- fi sher Park can tour the lights via covered train; car- riage rides are also available on weekends. A recent improvement to the display, made possible by dona- tions, has been the purchase of LED lights. “It’s a huge energy savings and if one bulb goes out the rest stay on,” Harris said. “With the old style it was a massive job to take lights down and it required many man hours to replace burnt-out bulbs.” One of the highlights of a tour through Kingfi sher

Park is the swinging bridge from 1903. According to Sanders, it was built to allow horse-drawn carriages to cross the creek. The wagons would roll across the bridge and the horses would go through the creek. Visitors to Kingfi sher in Lights can stroll across the historic bridge, adorned with 90,000 lights. Also pop- ular are the animated displays – deer jumping over the road, a fi re-spitting dragon, a fi sherman catching a fi sh, and more – all created by community members. “The public reaction makes all our hard work worthwhile,” Sanders said. “It gives you a sense of

drive through the grounds of the Christmas King- dom at the Castle in Muskogee, Okla. begins in the wooded parking lot and weaves through the Renais- sance village, telling Christmas stories with 2,000 lighted infl atable characters along the route. One of the most popular scenes is a 14-foot-tall polar bear family, dressed in scarves and hats.

At the end of the path, visitors are invited into the Castle to partake in family-friendly holiday activities – tour Santa’s workshop, take a picture with Father Christmas, make an ornament and do some Christ- mas shopping while enjoying a warm beverage. The annual Christmas celebration, which began seven years ago, came about in an unlikely way. “A buddy of mine had several hundred infl atables in his yard,” said Matt Hill, vice-president of the Cas- tle and East Central Electric Co-op member. “They were spilling into his neighbors’ yards and they were creating a lot of traffi c in his neighborhood.” Matt volunteered an alternate location – the Castle grounds. The display started with a few hundred in- fl atables and has grown to more than 2,000, making it the world’s largest.

Today, the American Bus Association recognizes the Castle as one of the top 100 bus tours in the na- tion for its Christmas Kingdom. On a busy evening, the destination attracts 2,000 cars.

Before heading home, visitors to Muskogee can drive through the Garden of Lights at nearby Honor Heights Park, featuring one million lights and several animated displays.

Lighting Oklahoma Homes

In 1994, Kay Electric Co-op member Eric Martin, along with his father, Neil and brother, Travis, Continued on Page 27

. Photo courtesy

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