Nearly 250 people came out to see Santa Claus at the opening reception of the Grayson County Holiday Lights Friday.

Santa visited Frontier Village in Denison’s Loy Lake Park as part of the festivities for the first night of Holiday Lights. He started things off by joining a tractor-pulled “hay ride” through the display route. Then he went inside the Frontier Village Museum to take pictures with children.

Grayson County Purchasing Agent Jeff Schneider said the community response to Holiday Lights has been tremendous, especially with the few hiccups the event has already experienced this year. Last month, there was some vandalism at the lights and some equipment was stolen. Another issue facing the committee was having to switch contractors during one phase of the project.

“It’s such a wonderful event,” Schneider said. “Being accepted by the community is great. We don’t charge a dime for people to come through, it’s supported by donation only. We’ve always been blessed with good amounts of donations. The support has been nothing short of phenomenal. Everything from buying new displays, new lights, paying overtime for people to be out here, we’re covering our costs. It’s been great, with all the donations, we don’t have to put any taxpayer dollars into it at all. We tend to have a great turnout opening night.”

Schneider said over $1 million has been raised over the 17 years of the event. He said it’s all been supported by donations from the community as well as a few donors that helped get it started with the initial purchases. Schneider also said the lights usually attract upwards of 30,000 people per year.

He attributed some of that to having the opening ceremonies on Black Friday. Schneider said people can go shopping earlier in the day and then drive by and enjoy Holiday Lights in the evening. Schneider said there are about 72 total displays, depending on how you count.

“It depends, do you count the 12 Days of Christmas as 12 displays, or as one display,” he said.

Grayson County Frontier Village President Charla Harris said the event is all about community.

“It brings everyone together — who can resist Santa Claus and Christmas lights?” Harris said. “It’s very important for the people. We give them Santa Claus to see before they go through and enjoy the lights. It’s an exciting evening. We’re glad to be a part of it.”

In addition to free food and photos with Santa, there were snacks and desserts provided, free of charge, to those in attendance.

Harris said there were easily 250 people present for opening night, one of the largest crowds yet. Holiday Lights are open between 5:30 to 10 p.m. every night until Dec. 29.