The Comanche Trail Festival of Lights draws more than 20,000 visitors annually to view the giant lighted poinsettias placed throughout Comanche Trail Park. Courtesy City of Big Spring

Each December, people from all over trek to Big Spring to get into the holiday spirit. Beyond the houses and shops decorated with string lights and Christmas trees, they come to see one very specific holiday emblem that put the small West Texas town on the map: poinsettias. Lighted poinsettias, to be exact. 

Since the mid-1990s, the city has decorated its historic spring and surrounding parkland with poinsettias sculpted out of wire and red lights during the Christmas season. These days, the city puts up more than 100 of these poinsettias, some of which are 150 feet tall. They’re all part of the Comanche Trail Festival of Lights, a mile-long trail of holiday light displays that draws around 27,000 visitors annually. 

“Because of the festival, we have become known for our Christmas spirit,” says Hayley Lewis, community services director for the city. “And it kind of reinvigorates the community and makes everyone want to decorate for Christmas and decorate their houses as well.”

Visitors can walk or drive through Comanche Trail Park to see the holiday lights, which are available to view this year from Dec. 3-25. In addition to poinsettias, the festival features other lit-up displays, such as giant candy canes, nutcrackers, and Christmas trees, as well as local icons, like an illuminated diorama of the town’s historic Hotel Settles. In total, the city says the festival boasts a million lights. “It is an all-hands-on-deck, hard festival to put on,” Lewis says. “We have to make sure everything is lit and everything is complete by the time it opens.”

The hard work hasn’t gone unnoticed. In 2017, the Texas Legislature designated Big Spring the Lighted Poinsettia Capital of Texas. “[The festival] is an event that needs to be celebrated and recognized,” says state Rep. Drew Darby, who sponsored the resolution. “We all like to be known for something, and this is a wonderful designation for the town of Big Spring.” The city is one of more than 100 places in the state with a capital designation.

The Festival of Lights has grown a lot since 1996, when a local named Pat Simmons got the idea to light up the large spring that gave the town its name. Before the city was founded in the late 1800s, the spring was the largest palatable water source within a 100-mile radius, making it a popular watering hole for animals and Native American tribes like the Comanches. No longer a functioning spring, it’s been preserved using surrounding lake water to show visitors what it once looked like.  

For the first year of the fest, just six lighted poinsettias decorated the spring, Lewis says. It then became a yearly tradition that grew over time. But why poinsettias? “These are a little bit more original than what most people think of when they think of the Christmas season, but they’re still a standard,” she says. “When you see a poinsettia, you think of Christmas.”

Poinsettias have become such a significant part of Big Spring’s holiday season that local businesses and residents purchase their own lighted poinsettias to put in their front yards or windows. “They’re just sprinkled all over town,” Lewis says.  

Two residents in particular helped make the festival the big event it is today—Howard and Vicki Stewart. “Vicki was an artist and designed a lot of the displays and dioramas, and Howard was able to build what she wanted,” Lewis says. When the couple died in 2020 and 2021, it was a big blow to the festival. But the rest of the festival’s board members continued to carry on the event using the many displays the couple created, including one especially meaningful contribution—an angel. 

“Once they passed, we made a small in memoriam area for them with a greeting card that has a really nice photo of them and a thank-you for the Festival of Lights,” Lewis says. “And we were able to revive the angel that they originally made and put that out there as well.”

While some light displays and the poinsettias remain a constant part of the festival, each year’s show always has something new to offer. “You think you’ve been through it for over 20 years and you think you’ve seen it, and it’s always different every year,” Lewis says. “It’s always exciting. It’s always a great way to get into the Christmas spirit.”

The March 2024 cover of Texas Highways Magazine

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