Located in the heart of the Ozarks, the Branson Area Festival of Lights has become the centerpiece of the Ozark Mountain Christmas held annually in the city of Branson for more than 20 years. The experience is the region’s largest drive-through trail of animated and static displays of Christmas lights. Visitors will see more than 120 lighted, moving displays and a stunning tunnel of lights with more than 16 illuminated arches to guide tour groups and buses through the displays.
“We offer groups an easy-to-drive, well-priced motorcoach tour of the lights,” said Lynn Berry, Branson resident for more than 35 years and director of public relations for the Branson/Lakes Area Convention and Visitors Bureau and the Branson Area Festival of Lights. “And the best part is that Santa is onsite and allows for some great photo ops.”
Santas Around the World
Great Bend, Kansas
Each year since 1995, Great Bend, Kansas, has sparked an international flair as it showcases the Santas Around the World exhibit as part of its Holiday Trail of Lights experience. This year, the event runs from November 30 through December 31, and will feature 23 life-sized international Santa Claus statues, each handcrafted by a local artist. Each statue comes with its own story and a costume created by the artist.
“One main unique thing about this event is that not only are all the 23 Santas made by local artists, but all citywide decorations were made locally for the event,” said Cris Collier, president of the Great Bend Convention and Visitors Bureau. “I love the rural charm of our downtown at the holiday, with a craft mall, Christmas parade and iceless skating rink. It’s like stepping back a bit in time. I also love to watch folks visit the Santas and learn about the different look and customs from country to country.”
Groups touring the area can take advantage of packages with lodging, personal escorts, behind-the-scenes tours and presentations with the Santa artists, and even unique settings for catered meals.
Festival of Light
Nationally recognized as one of the top holiday light shows, the Festival of Light in Chickasha, Oklahoma, has recently undergone quite a few changes thanks to a new group of passionate volunteers. The event still features a 16-story-tall Christmas tree as the beacon on the hill for festival pilgrims and a gift shop and concession stand selling commemorative ornaments, gifts, and homemade cinnamon rolls and hot chocolate. But with more than $280,000 in park renovations since the festival started in 1992, the Festival of Light has become one of the brightest lights of the holidays for group travelers.
“Through the new board members and everybody pitching in with new ideas, we made it a successful event for the 20th year,” said Mark Millsap, president of the Chickasha Festival of Light and publisher of the Chickasha Express-Star. “This year we added an animated piece to a bridge that goes across the duck pond about 150 yards across. It’s a hot spot for date night, and you see a lot of couples walking through there. There’s also pictures with Santa at Santa’s Workshop. It kind of makes you a little dizzy, but that’s my favorite part.”
The event is truly a show of community spirit, with nearly 1,200 volunteers making it possible each year. Along with light shows — run by a technician who programs for Disney — carriage rides, music, Santa, shopping and more, groups can have their own hop-on tour guides as they explore the more than 3.5 million lights that shine in the 43-acre Shannon Springs Park from November 26 through New Year’s Eve.