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Want to see the lights?
What: Fantasy of Lights display
Where: Swan Lake-Iris Gardens, 822 W. Liberty St.
When: Every night of December, starting at dusk, ending at 9 p.m. Sunday-Thursday, 10 p.m. Friday-Saturday
Details: Enter on Garden Street, either drive through or park and walk around
Santa's Village: Dec. 6-7 and Dec. 13-14 from 6-8 p.m. in the Heath Pavilion, get pictures taken with Santa and purchase snacks and hot chocolate from the Pilot Club
It wasn't just her first time meeting Santa. It was one of the first things she had ever done.
Santa held Brinley Faith Robinson in his arms Sunday evening as her mother snapped a photo on her phone in the Health Pavilion at Swan Lake-Iris Gardens. Kids were playing, hot chocolate was being sipped, and more than one million lights twinkled around her, but the 12-day-old slumbered, swaddled in a fuzzy bear wrap.
Paige and Michael Robinson were on their way to eat with their three children and the Prescotts and their two children. The four have been friends since they were kids themselves in Sumter.
They knew the Fantasy of Lights takes place every December at Swan Lake, offering the largest free display of Christmas lights in South Carolina, so they thought they'd drive through. The display is designed to be drivable due to dipping temperatures.
They did not know the city was holding an opening ceremony for the 32nd annual display and 40th annual rendition of the Pilot Club of Sumter's floating Christmas tree on Sunday. An hour later, the two families were meeting Santa, kids playing a loose version of tag that involved a lot of circles.
The infant was too young to create the iconic family photo of a screaming 2-year-old, terrified to be on Santa's lap but interested once out of arm's reach and offered a candy cane. Other children smarted up to the situation and emitted momentary shrieks for Mommy.
On the other side of the pavilion, the Pilot Club sold snacks and hot chocolate. That much remained the same.
Outside, lights wrapped around and up trees. They formed characters from comic books, cartoons and Disney movies.
The city is in the midst of expanding and revamping the entrance to the lake. The result will be a massive sculpture by Sumter's world-renowned Grainger McKoy, but in the meantime the display that is usually horseshoes the main parking lot has been moved to Garden Street and the area surrounding the Heath Pavilion.
That's where Santa's Village usually is and remains. He'll be back Dec. 6-7 and Dec. 13-14 from 6 to 8 p.m. to meet kids and take photos. The nightly display is open every night of December from dusk until 9 p.m. Sunday-Thursday and until 10 p.m. on Friday and Saturday.
"We've put up everything we've had every other year," said Shelley Kile, spokeswoman for the City of Sumter.
The city realized construction would keep the main parking lot closed into January, so the Parks and Gardens Department started drawing new designs after the Iris Festival. Fast forward from Memorial Day to Labor Day, and staff members started stringing every light, setting every character, by hand.
There's something for everyone, from religious depictions to kids' movie and TV characters to Kile's favorite, a flock of flying swans. Unable to be called a wedge by not being in their typical "V" formation, they are in two straight lines. Behind them, Santa and his sleigh.
The new display has taken the same items and cast them in a new light. All it took was some rearranging.
"A lot of people told me tonight they like this arrangement because of the depth of field," Kile said. "You can drive through, but I always say get out and walk around."
For those who do make that choice, the light tunnel bringing people from the parking lot to the land of lights won't be able to see the side view showing it as a bridge, but they will get a green and red opportunity to add to their Instagram stories.
When the Prescotts and the Robinsons pulled up on Sunday, they found a crowd of people preparing for a countdown. Brinley Faith's siblings, Paisley and Mason, and their friends Bailey and Luke Prescott gathered, they were among a group of about 100 or so, from kids to grandparents.
Kile said a little boy was standing next to her when the countdown got to zero and a million lights switched on at the same time.
"His jaw hit the floor, and his hands went up, and he said, 'Oh my goodness. This is beautiful!" she said.
He said it slowly, the awe visible in the face of a child.
It's safe to assume he has seen Christmas lights before. But not in this light. Brinley Faith will see Santa again. But not in this light. Whether patrons have been coming to the Fantasy of Lights for three decades or for the first time, they're looking at the twinkles in a new light.
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