City of lights - Baxter ignites holiday lighting contest

The lighting contest touches on nostalgic memories of childhood and family togetherness and fits into a challenging time when the coronavirus pandemic is limiting what can be done for entertainment. The contest is open to all Baxter residents and will offer prizes for the top three entrants.

Baxter residents may participate in a city lighting contest aimed at providing a family friendly event for people to participate in and enjoy during a difficult winter where the coronavirus pandemic is limiting entertainment and activities. Photo illustration by Metro Newspaper Service.

Evoking memories of loading everyone in the family car for a tour of lights on a dark winter night, Connie Lyscio was decorating her own home when the idea sparked.

Why not bring back that tradition, particularly at a time when families may need the outlet, both on decorating together and seeing what others put together.

The idea had the full support of the Baxter City Council as members met via Zoom for a special session Thursday to certify the election results.

“In the past, When I was a kid growing up they had light judging contests in our communities and we would get the car loaded up and kids would go out looking at the lights,” said Mayor Darrel Olson, noting that was his tradition as a child and one he continued with his own children. But along the way those traditions fell by the wayside.

“It’s a fond memory and now in these days of trying to come up with activities that are family friendly and COVID safe, I thought this could be perfect,” council member Lyscio said.


Thinking about possible prizes, Lyscio contacted Char Kinzer, public relations manager at Crow Wing Power, and the company agreed to offer three prizes in credit toward the winner’s residential bill for the month of January.

“2020 has been a bit of a rough ride and I thought maybe this could be a bright spot at the end of 2020,” Lyscio said.

The contest is open to all Baxter residents, including apartments and condos as long as they abide by the rules and regulations of their living association. Entries, with the participant’s home address, name and phone or email address for contact information. Homes or residences in the contest may be photographed or their holiday display included in a Dispatch video.

“I think that is an awesome idea Connie,” said council member Mark Cross, who noted Brainerd Community Action had something like it 20 years ago. “It’s certainly something that I think people would get into this year because there’s not a lot of other things you can do.”

Cross said this year — with the pandemic — it’s going to be tough to even go and see Santa.

Lyscio said with the lighting contest, families will be able to decorate together.


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Baxter City Council members and staff meet via Zoom Nov. 12. Screenshot

First prize is a $100 credit from Crow Wing Power, second prize is a $75 credit and third prize is a $50 credit — all on the January residential energy bill.

Contest entries will be judged by an anonymous committee on a point system as they view the entry via curbside. Categories for judging are: first impression — 25 points, design — 20 points, originality — 20 points. Lyscio, who began decorating in August, said her husband suggested a difficulty rating after he fell off a ladder decorating a few years ago, but she nixed that idea.

In a phone interview before the council session, Lyscio said many of her childhood memories include that trip in the car driving around with the family looking at the displays of lights and wiping off fogged windows to get a better view.

“This year has just been a lot so let’s just finish on a bright note,” Lyscio said.

Lyscio was taking advantage of the recent warm weather and was outside enjoying decorating wreaths when she thought of the lighting contest.

She said all efforts will be appreciated. For Lyscio, the lighting contest touches on nostalgic memories of childhood and family togetherness and fits into a challenging time when the coronavirus pandemic is limiting what can be done for entertainment. It is also creating an activity for families already staying home together with work and school often based at home.

“And maybe just creating safe, fun, family activities and memories both for those decorating and for those enjoying the decorations,” Lyscio said. “ I just think it’s a win-win for a whole bunch of reasons.”


Contest specifics

Entries are due by Dec. 10.

Judging will take place Dec. 16-17 with the winner announced Dec. 18. Employees and elected officials in the city of Baxter are not eligible.

Entries can be mailed, dropped off, or emailed to the Brainerd Dispatch.

Those interested in entering the contest, should mail their information to the Brainerd Dispatch, P.O. Box 974, Brainerd, MN 56401, email , or drop their information — name, address and contact information with Baxter Lighting Contest noted — in the Dispatch drop box, which is accessed by the alleyway next to the building at 506 James St.

Renee Richardson, managing editor, may be reached at 218-855-5852 or Follow on Twitter at

Renee Richardson is managing editor at the Brainerd Dispatch. She joined the Brainerd Dispatch in 1996 after earning her bachelor's degree in mass communications at St. Cloud State University.
Renee Richardson can be reached at or by calling 218-855-5852 or follow her on Twitter @dispatchbizbuzz or Facebook.
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