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Sumter’s Fantasy of Lights 2023: Everything You Need To Know

Sumter’s Fantasy Of Lights at Swan Lake Iris Gardens is the largest free Christmas lights display in South Carolina. Before you go, find out everything you need to know about the event in our post.

For more help planning your trip, check out all of our posts about Sumter, SC.

An animatronic old man winter lights scene with the words "Sumter's Fantasy of Lights: Everything You Need To Know" digitally written on top.

I love Christmas lights. Ever since I was a little kid, I always loved riding around town, looking at all the decorations on people’s homes. And now, we have the best house on the block.

No, really. We do. Pete puts up lights, professionally, for the town now so he’s really good at setting up our display. I keep joking that all we’re missing is an animatronic waving Santa.

My mom joked that we should be able to borrow one from the town because its not doing its annual huge Christmas lights display this year due to construction at the park.

If you’re town’s not doing anything, or if you just want to travel to see an amazing light display, head to Sumter, South Carolina for Fantasy of Lights. It’s South Carolina’s largest free Christmas lights display and a great event for the entire family.

Four scenes from Sumter, South Carolina.

If you’re planning a trip to the city of Sumter for this Christmas festival, be sure to check out our Things To Do In Sumter, SC post before you go. You’ll find out where to stay, where to eat, and more.

Sumter’s Fantasy of Lights: Everything You Need To Know

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Fantasy of Lights is Sumter’s annual Christmas lights display. Lights are set up on trees and animatronics are set up around Swan Lake Iris Gardens.

It’s a drive through event, so although you are able to pull over and take photos, you’re encouraged to stay in your vehicle and drive around to see the lights. There are so many, though. So you might want to loop around a couple times to make sure you catch everything — especially The Pilot Club’s floating Christmas tree in the middle of the lake.

The opening ceremony (which they call a grand illumination at the park here) is at December 1 at 6 pm. After that, the drive-through gates are opened and the public is encouraged to enjoy the annual display.

There are over a million lights,  which take over two months to set up, and nearly 150 characters, which take about four days each. And, speaking of those characters. They’re usually designed by employees. But this year, two new characters will be introduced as part of a community contest for local students.

A metal sign in a park that says "Swan Lake Iris Gardens" in Sumter, SC.

Fantasy of Lights: Frequently Asked Questions

Let’s answer some questions about the festival.

What are the dates for Fantasy of Lights in Sumter, South Carolina?

Fantasy of Lights is open nightly for the entire month of December (December 1 to 31, 2023).

Where is Fantasy of Lights held?

Fantasy of Lights is held at Swan Lake Iris Gardens (822 W. Liberty Street) in Sumter, SC.

Side note: This is also where the Sumter Iris Festival is held each Memorial Day Weekend.

Is there parking at Fantasy of Lights?

Swan Lake Iris Gardens has a huge free parking lot, however, Fantasy of Lights is meant to be a drive through event. You can pull over to take pictures of the lights, but you’re not encouraged to park in a lot and walk through the event.

Is Swan Lake Iris Gardens open during Fantasy of Lights?

No. Access to the gardens and its trails close at dusk and the lights for this event are turned on at dusk.

Is Santa at Fantasy of Lights?

Santa’s Village (in the Swan Lake Iris Gardens Heath Pavilion) is open on select Friday and Saturday nights in December.

Santa Claus will be on site to take pictures with (for free with your own camera). There will be letter writing stations and holiday music. Hot cocoa and holiday treats will be available for sale on-site

Fantasy of Lights Schedule


Friday, December 1 to Sunday, December 31


Sunday to Thursday: dusk until 9 pm
Friday and Saturday: dusk until 10 pm

Santa’s Village Schedule


Fridays: December 8 and 15
Saturdays: December 2, 9, and 16


From 6 pm to 8 pm

More Christmas Lights In Sumter, SC:

If you’re in town for the opening of the annual Swan Lake Fantasy of Lights on December 1, you might want to juggle your calendar. The city of Sumter’s annual tree lighting at the Sumter County Courthouse at 5 pm. It’s a short 10-ish minute drive from the courthouse to Swan Lake Iris Gardens, so you might be able to make both on time. If not, the Fantasy of Lights is open until 10 pm, so you’re in no rush.

Also, be sure to stop by 115 Gaddy Court. That’s the private residence of Susan and Charlie Dubose, Sumter residents who have been wowing others with their home decorations for over 45 years. Lights go up on Thanksgiving and are on from 5:30 pm to 9 pm, daily. On weekends, lights are on until 10 pm and Santa is around to collect letters.

Embassy Suites in historic Charleston, SC.

More Christmas Displays in the Southeast:

If you’re looking for more Christmas events within driving distance of Sumter, SC, you want to check out the Christmas things to do in Charleston, SC (105 miles) and Christmas things to do in Fayetteville, NC (131 miles).

As far as large light displays, like Fantasy of Lights, be sure to visit:

Hummingbird and flower Christmas light set hanging at Enchanted Airlie at Airlie Gardens.

Enchanted Airlie

300 Airlie Rd; Wilmington, NC (178 miles)

​Airlie Gardens, a botanical garden in Wilmington, NC, sets up a gorgeous walk-through display each year. You pay per carload, but you walk through individually throughout the garden.

See more at our Enchanted Airlie review.

Plan out your trip to the Cape Fear region with our Christmas Things To Do In Wilmington, NC post.

Lighted trees at Leland In Lights.

Leland In Lights 

113 Town Hall Dr.; Leland, NC (172 miles)

Leland In Lights is set up at Founders Park in Leland, NC. The free event is filled with lights, animatronic displays, a nativity, and more. On some nights, there’s a train (mostly for kids and their parents) that takes you around the back half of the display.

This year, the display is mostly across the street at town hall due to construction at Founders Park.

Find out more in our Leland In Lights review.

Nights Of A Thousand Candles at Brookgreen Gardens.

Nights of A Thousand Candles

1931 Brookgreen Drive; Murrells Inlet, SC (100 miles)

Thousands of lights and candles are set up throughout the sculpture garden at Brookgreen Gardens in Murrells Inlet. You pay per person and walk-through nearly half of the gardens (the section with animals is closed during this time). There’s music, refreshments for purchase, and more available on site.

Get details in our Nights of A Thousand Candles review.

Have you been to Sumter’s Fantasy of Lights? Let us know your thoughts in the comments.