By BRENNA GRITEMAN
UPPER SANDUSKY — If you’ve got 20 minutes and a Thermos full of hot chocolate, you’ve got the makings of the Christmas spirit.
Just add a nice, slow drive through Upper’s Winter Fantasy of Lights.
The cheerful, twinkling display of Christmas-themed light displays has been an Upper Sandusky tradition since 1997. Its explosion in size and scope — from an original 10 displays and 2,700 vehicles driving through to today’s 85 displays and upwards of 15,000 vehicles — is a testament to the volunteer-driven team behind the Fantasy, and the surrounding area’s embrace of the display.
“On the weekends, if you’re not here by 7 (p.m.), you’re going to be waiting in line for some time,” says committee chairwoman Pat Eyestone, noting that the display dazzles locals, while also attracting families from as far away as Columbus, Toledo and Mansfield.
For a suggested $5 per car donation, the Fantasy offers a 15- to 20-minute jaunt through the 33-acre Harrison Smith Park, just east of downtown Upper Sandusky.
Displays range from the traditional Manger scene, snowflakes, angels, snowmen and reindeer; to a brightly painted Grinch, Minions driving a sleigh, and Dorothy and friends making their way to the Emerald City. Most of the displays were lovingly made and donated by local 4-H groups, churches and businesses. This year, a local egg manufacturer has contributed a combine for the existing “Christmas on the Farm” portion of the park.
Eyestone says all of the displays, strands of lights and extension cords are stored in five semi trailers, the unloading of which is “quite an operation.”
Setup typically begins the last week of October, and the entire process of unloading and erecting displays, stringing lights, and manning the park during business hours is powered by volunteers. This massive volunteer effort allows the committee to use each year’s proceeds to support local charitable causes.
If all goes according to plan, based on the successes of the past few years, the committee estimates it will donate about $100,000 from this year’s Fantasy.
“We upped our ante this year,” Eyestone says, adding proceeds will be split among four worthy causes: Wyandot County 4-H, Wyandot County EMS, the Frank Shuleski for Youth organization and the City of Upper Sandusky parks system.
The Upper Winter Fantasy of Lights is open through Dec. 30. Hours are 6-9:30 p.m. Mondays through Thursdays; and 6-10 p.m. Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays.
More information is available on Facebook and at www.uppersfantasyoflights.org.