'Twas the night before Christmas and all through the night, Wichitans could be found at the MSU-Burns Fantasy of Lights. But what keeps these lights burning bright each year? Well, the generous donations from a community with cheer.

The MSU-Burns Fantasy of Lights is a staple in our community. A yearly tradition for well over forty years now. The tradition originated nearly 100 years ago by L.T. and Lillian Burns with a simple blue light. Before illuminating the Midwestern State University campus off of Taft Blvd, many of the present displays were paraded on their lawn at Harrison Street and Clarinda Avenue. The displays spent a few dark years in storage after Mr. and Mrs. Burns passed away. Finally, in 1974. the Christmas tradition found a new home at MSU in their memory.

Original Burns Christmas Display circa 1970 (photo courtesy of Doug Hollenshead)

We spoke with Dirk Welch, Coordinator of MSU-Burns Fantasy of Lights to get the scoop on what happens behind the scenes.

“It takes virtually every penny to keep the now 38 displays functional," Welch said. “The public plays a tremendous role in this annual event with their kind donations.”

The lighting magic Wichitans anticipate after Thanksgiving isn’t cheap and has long been planned before we see the first bulbs’ glow.

While Welch explained the MSU-Burns Fantasy of Lights,” isn’t meant to be a money making…” attraction, the possibility to keep this tradition going is something of a Christmas Miracle.

For 2016, the total expenses came to $77,000, while total donations were $77,655. Sponsors contributed roughly $37,000, display adoption at $28,000, boot collection totaled $9,000 and donations boxes totaled $3,000.

So where do your donations go? Here is a breakdown:

For every $1 donation: 0.30 - labor, 0.04 - security, 0.075 - extra labor during daycare and school visits, 0.05 - marketing. 0.15 - two staff yearly stipends, 0.075 - Food/Beverages for volunteer workers, 0.06 lights along University, and lastly 0.25 for new displays and refurbishing costs. Welch said four of the displays consistently require significant refurbishing and this year three new displays were added.

The expenses are on-going throughout the year and many variables could threaten the already fragile budget. Labor costs account for roughly $30,000. A lot of man power is required for the transportation, positioning, set-up and take down of our Christmas friends. Of course, there are costs for refurbishing and maintenance on them as well.

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Welch said, “Some displays have many moving parts, chains and motors. The motor can cost between $250 to $500 and some displays, like the carousal, might have several motors.”

Costs continue well after the last light dims. The string of lights that line the university buildings all year account for $6,000 to maintain and replace bulbs. The MSU-Burns Fantasy of Lights Advisory Committee meets in the months of January, September and June to discuss and approve new decisions for the festivities.

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Midwestern State University provides the real estate for the attraction but the displays are stored in a warehouse, off-site. The warehouse is near Professional Drive and has been paid for in full by the donations from the community. However, one straggler display was discovered in the basement of Midwestern State University’s Hardin Administration Building by mistake. A worker found the new “Merry Christmas To All” display by accident and it has since been refurbished and brought to life this year.

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Donations are needed and appreciated throughout the year. There are several ways you can contribute:

  • Online Here
  • Checks Payable to MSU-Burns Fantay of Lights and mailed to 3410 Taft Blvd, Wichita Falls, Texas 76308
  • Boot Donations – Volunteers are located at the end of the vehicle drive through lane and across from the nativity scene.
  • Donation Boxes - One near The Three Little Pigs and one near Dickens Christmas Carol.

It’s hard to say which display came first, but we can tell you the snowman and santa soaking his feet are two of the Burns family favorites. Flip through the gallery below to see photos of each display. Can you guess ALL of the originals?

BONUS: Views From the Wichita Falls City Lights Parade 2017