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Santa Land has been a holiday fixture on the South Plains for decades. Santa Land will open Dec. 10 in Mackenzie Park with the sense of magic that has captivated visitors for more than 50 years.

Christmas Fare

Annual events grow to help local residents build up their holiday spirit

BY Doug Hensley
For the Avalanche-Journal

Waving good-bye to November can mean only one thing: It's about to look a lot like Christmas.

While a number of South Plains holiday traditions will take place in the next few weeks, three iconic events - the Carol of Lights, the opening of Santa Land and Candlelight at the Ranch - will once again provide memories for people of all ages.

"The Carol of Lights has just grown and developed into something people look forward to," said Bill Dean, executive vice president of the Texas Tech Alumni Association. "Over the years, residents who were once students here, gravitate back to it again. It represents the beginning of a special season."

The Carol of Lights reaches a milestone this year when it celebrates its 50th anniversary. The event culminates with 25,000 red, orange and yellow Christmas lights illuminating the 13 buildings surrounding

Santa's sleigh sits outside the hut where he and Mrs. Claus reside while they visit Lubbock's Santa Land.

Memorial Circle. This year's Carol of Lights will begin with the carillon at 6:30 p.m. Friday. The outdoor ceremony will begin at 7 p.m. in Memorial Circle and the Science Quadrangle.

"That event started out with a group of people going over there and singing carols and having hot chocolate," Dean said. "(Former board of regents member) Harold Hinn donated the first major lights to light up the Science Quadrangle, and it has since grown and expanded into what has really become an area event that is a kickoff of the Christmas season for many people."

The Carol of Lights began in 1959, according to the Alumni Association publication, "Tech Traditions." A year later, the Residence Hall Association, which coordinates the event, created the Christmas Sing, the forerunner of the Carol of Lights, one of the university's best-known and most-embraced traditions.

"I remember when I was SGA (Student Government Association) president in 1960-61, I was asked to flip the switch to turn on the lights," Dean said. "That wasn't the first Carol of Lights because groups had gone over there and gathered students around and sung carols, but it was the first one when they had all of the lights up, and it's grown from there."

Dean said the Carol of Lights draws estimated crowds of between 10,000 and 15,000 people, depending on weather conditions.

"I think it's a wonderful event," he said. "It has become more than a Tech event because of interest and notoriety. They leave the lights on every night. You see more traffic on campus than you normally see. People who come out during that period will see the campus is well-populated with people who want to see it."

The same can be said for Santa Land, which will celebrate its 52nd year when it begins its Mackenzie Park run at 6 p.m. Dec. 10.

"Santa Land brings the magic of Christmas to the families of Lubbock every year," said Nancy Neill, who oversees indoor recreation for the city of Lubbock. "It is available to everyone. I think the fact that the city fathers for 52 years have chosen to fund Santa Land shows tremendous commitment to family."

According to an A-J article, more than 30,000 people visit Santa Land each year to see the holiday village with its 60-foot lighted Christmas tree, animated displays, bonfires, traditional holiday scenes and Santa and Mrs. Claus.

"It has the same aspects year in and year out, so people know what to expect," said Neill, who also handles publicity for Santa Land. "People know there will be a large Christmas tree there. They know Santa will be there. As we continue to build on it and it becomes more beautiful each year, it just increases the number of people it can touch. We have folks from all over the region who come in for Santa Land."

Neill said Santa Land has been located in Clapp Park and Mose Hood Park. Prior to moving to its current home at Mackenzie, Santa Land was set up just north of the Memorial Civic Center between Fourth and Sixth streets.

Neill said Santa Land is a project of the city's parks department, and personnel dedicate more than six weeks to bringing it to life.

"The parks maintenance staff puts it together, and they try to make it better each year," she said. "They put their hearts into it each year."

Santa Land will be open through Dec. 23.

"We're out there rain, snow or shine," she said. "It is beautiful in the snow. I think that adds more magic to something that is already magical."

That same sense of magic will be created during the 30th-annual Candlelight at the Ranch event, which will take place Dec. 12-13 at the National Ranching Heritage Center, 3121 Fourth St. "Candlelight at the Ranch is a Christmas celebration that shows how people celebrated 100 years ago," said Emily Arellano, manager of education at the center. "It is something people can relate to, seeing Christmas in a different way."

Arellano said approximately 6,000 people will visit the center during the two-day event, which was designated one of "12 Christmas Destinations in the State" in the December edition of Texas Highways.

"This is something people enjoy doing," she said. "It is a fun way to learn and a good way to be educated. We have a lot of families who have made it one of their traditions."

This year's theme is "A Journey In Search of Christmas," providing visitors a chance to walk down luminaria-lighted paths into Christmas scenes from life on the open prairie. The event will feature period-dressed volunteers re-enacting holiday preparations and celebrations from the late 1700s to the early 1900s. Scenes will take place at a number of structures, including a train depot, a sharecropper's cabin, a half-dugout, an XIT Ranch division headquarters building and a one-room schoolhouse.

"It's kind of like a living Christmas card," Arellano said.

Previous A-J Remembers:


The A-J Remembers The Most Important People in Lubbock's History

SPECIAL SECTIONS: 1909-1933 / 1934-1958 / 1959-1983 / 1984-PRESENT | PRINT VERSION