Santa Claus and General Ambrose Burnside have a couple things in common: one, famous facial hair, and two, the most festive island in southern Pulaski County.
General Burnside Island, named after the Civil War military leader, was once upon a time the site of Christmas Island. From 1993 to 2001, the state park hosted an annual light display celebrating the most wonderful time of the year, where families could drive through in their cars and see all manner of familiar shapes lit up brilliantly — reindeer, candy canes, even a giant tunnel of lights.
Eventually, the tradition died down due to volunteer fatigue and maintenance costs, and Christmas Island disappeared like Santa’s sleigh into the snowy night sky. But Burnside Mayor Robert Lawson had made it a goal to bring Christmas Island back to the community, and in 2021, that sugar plum dream will finally be realized.
Though the plans had been discussed in Burnside City Council meetings for months, on Monday, the City of Burnside officially announced Christmas Island 2021, which will take place from November 18 through January 2.
“It’s very exciting, and it’s just a dream come true,” said Lawson. “That’s one of the big things everybody wanted to come back, was Christmas Island, and it’s so nice to give to community, and the community getting involved like it is.”
The title sponsor is Cumberland Lake Shell. Indeed, sponsorships have been key to making the event possible this year, with the city seeking backing for even individual light displays. Jerrica Flynn, who has been assisting Burnside Tourism Director Frank Crabtree, Jr., said there are still 11 such stations still in need of sponsors, and the city is still welcoming any that would like to come on board.
“Times are kind of tough right now for sponsorships, but (the community has) really stepped forward,” said Lawson.
Mondays through Thursdays, the display will be open from 6 p.m. to 10 p.m., and Fridays through Sunday’s from 6 p.m. to 11 p.m.
Lawson said the drive takes about 20 minutes and goes “all the way back through the campground.” There are 48 different displays along the path, ranging up to 104-feet-long to 16-feet-high.
“(There is) a wide variety of classic lights, themed Christmas lights, some religious with the nativity scene,” said Flynn. “Just a whole bunch of variety with the lights.”
Tickets will be bought at the gates. On weekdays, cost is $20 for a standard car, truck or SUV, and $35 for a passenger van or bus capable of holding a larger amount of people. Fridays through Sundays, those costs are $25 for the standard car, truck or SUV, and $40 for the passenger van or bus.
These aren’t the old light displays from past years — Burnside has gotten with the times, using more contemporary technology and LED lights that drastically help in saving the city money with all-new scenes.
“RECC did the stats, and said, ‘This is what it’s going to cost you, it’s going to be about $600-$700 for the whole 45 days,” said Lawson. “The electricity is going to be cut (down) probably three or four times (what it would have been with the older lights).”
In the future, said Lawson, the city hopes to go even more high-tech with RGB light displays — some of this year’s will already be utilizing those kinds of lights, but there are plans to expand that throughout in years to come.
“Everybody’s excited about it. They can’t wait,” said Lawson. “We’ve got civic clubs run the gate, and giving a percentage to them, so we filled that up real quick. That’s kind of giving back to the community as well.”
Call 606-561-4113 for more information.