Missouri Baptists marvel at Branson Festival of Lights
BRANSON – As a longtime entertainer, businessman and minister in Branson who serves on the Branson Area Festival of Lights Committee, Larry Wilhite always looks forward to an Ozark Mountain Christmas.
Branson does Christmas a little bit differently than the rest of Missouri. Branson does Christmas before Thanksgiving. Truth be told, Branson is extreme. Branson does Christmas the day after Halloween.
“The whole town lights up Nov. 1 with Christmas,” Wilhite said. “It is spectacular, just the volume of the lights. The drive-through is unbelievable.”
From Nov. 1 through Dec. 31, the festival of lights in the Branson/Lakes Area includes an amazing 10 million lights, with drive-through displays in Branson, Kimberling City and Indian Point. Over 4 million of those lights are in the Silver Dollar City theme park, where a five-story musical Christmas tree alone glows with more than 250,000 lights.
“It actually started out as The Festival of the Light,” said Jay Scribner, recently retired pastor of First Baptist Church, Branson. “That’s really what it is. We live in a community where we’re not ashamed to uplift Christ. The entire community sort of rallies around this time of the year, emphasizing the Christian focus of the holiday season.”
Brad Thomas, general manager of Silver Dollar City and a Sunday School teacher at Second Baptist Church in Springfield, said the theme park used to have only 200,000 Christmas lights in 1988. The growth over the years of the number of lights at Silver Dollar City seems very natural, he said, as the theme park embraces how God came to earth as a child.
The main drive-through in the Branson/Lakes Area is in the city of Branson itself. All of the symbols of Christmas (and others thrown in for fun) are illuminated for the eye to behold. The drive-through goes on for two miles and captivates many tourists on the days leading up to Dec. 25.
Traditional figures like candy canes, Santas, elves, Christmas trees, reindeer, camels, snowmen, snowflakes, angels, stars and the 12 Days of Christmas can be observed. Then there are the non-traditional items like penguins, bears, Batman and Elmo. After taking it all in on a Friday night tour, one cannot help but conclude that The Festival of Lights is a dazzling display of green, red, yellow and blue Christmas bulbs that creates in the mind of the observer a powerful sense of awe.