The Complete History of The Osborne Family Spectacle of Dancing Lights

For over two decades, The Osborne Family Spectacle of Dancing Lights was a beloved part of the holidays at Walt Disney World… until it was discontinued. The display, housed at Disney’s Hollywood Studios (originally Disney/MGM Studios) theme park, is still mourned by die hard fans to this day. However there’s more to the Osbourne Lights than their controversial closure. In fact, the story of how they got to Walt Disney World in the first place is a fascinating tale featuring lawsuits and a Supreme Court case.

The Osborne home in Little Rock as it appeared during the 1993 holiday season.

The story of the Osborne Lights begins in 1986, when successful Arkansas businessman Jennings Osborne was asked by his then young daughter Allison (nicknamed Breezy) to decorate the family’s Little Rock home for Christmas. Never one to go about things lightly, Osborne (and wife Mitzy) decked out their home in over 1,000 Christmas lights. 

Over the next seven years, the Osborne’s display became increasingly ornate, detailed… and, in-turn, popular. By 1993, the home drew news crews and visitors by the thousands to view the classic lights, as well as features including a giant illuminated globe and a 70-foot tall Christmas tree. However, not everyone was happy with Jennings. 

In the early 1990s, several of Osborne’s neighbors became unhappy with large crowds and heavy amounts of traffic Osborne’s lights brought to the area. In 1993 (when Osborne’s lights were lit from sundown to midnight 35 days of the holiday season) six neighbors banded together and took Osborne to court. In a move that could be considered to be, at best, arrogant and at worst, purposely poking the bear, Osborne responded to the suit by stringing an extra 1,000 lights. The good times didn’t last though, and by the next year the country court ordered Osborn to only have the display active for 15 days, and only from 7PM to 10:30PM. 

Jennings Osborne appealed the county court’s decision to both the Arkansas Supreme Court and the United States Supreme Court, the latter of which saw Justice Clarence Thomas shoot down Osborne’s claim that his “religious freedom” was being violated. Things got even worse for Osborne in 1995, when the Arkansas Supreme Court ordered his display shut down entirely. 

Just when it looked like the Osborne’s version of Christmas would be cancelled permanently, the Walt Disney Company stepped in. Walt Disney World Project Director John Phelan heard about the use through media coverage and decided to contact Osborne about potentially moving the display to the resort. After a bit of convincing – and allegedly an explanation that MGM Studios’ Residential Street area was part of the park, and not an actual residential street in Orlando – the family agreed to donate their display to Disney. Initially christened The Osborne Family Festival of Lights, the display debuted at MGM Studios for the 1995 holiday season and was an immediate smash. 

The lights quickly became a mainstay of the park during the holidays, and quickly began to evolve. Over the years, Disney added more and more lights, eventually topping out at over 5 million lights (and dozens of Hidden Mickeys). In 2004, the Osborne Lights were moved from Residential Street (which was then torn down to make room for the Lights! Motors! Action! Extreme Stunt Show theater) to the park’s Streets of America.

In 2006, the display was rechristened The Osborne Family Spectacle of Dancing Lights, thanks to the addition of 1,500 dimmer switches that allowed the lights to “dance” to various Christmas and holiday songs, including “Christmas Eve (Sarajevo 12-24)” by Trans-Siberian Orchestra, and ”Feliz Navidad” by José Feliciano. The show saw a final massive tech upgrade in 2011, when the traditional lights were all replaced by LEDs. 

While his lights became a holiday institution at Walt Disney World, Jennings Osborne continued to irritate his neighbors back home in Arkansas. According to Arkansas Online, in the early 2000s, Jennings installed 100,000 lights that formed “an American flag and spelled out “God Bless America and George W. Bush.” Despite several instances of vandalism, the display stayed up until 2008. Osborne himself passed away in 2011. 

In September 2015, Disney announced that the upcoming holiday season would be the final one for the Osborne lights, as the entire Streets of America section of Hollywood Studios was set to be removed as part of the preparation for  the land that eventually became Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge.

Many fans were mortified at the decision and pushed Disney to either change their plans or find a new spot on property for the Osborne Lights. However, these calls fell on deaf ears, as the Lights gave their final WDW performance on January 3, 2016. Appropriately, their final “dance” was set to the “Mickey Mouse Club Alma Mater” song. 

While the Osborne Lights are no longer featured at Walt Disney World, they are arguably doing more good for the world in their current location. Following the end of their run, Disney donated  vast majority of the lights to the Give Kids the World Village charity complex. They’re currently used for the group’s ”Night of a Million Lights” event, and used to raise money for the village to continue its mission of hosting wishes and their guests. 

[Give Kids the World]
The Osborne Family Spectacle of Lights evolved from a request from a young girl to her father to decorate for Christmas to a beloved Walt Disney World institution, only to become a casualty of theme park progress.

Do you wish the Osborne Lights were still featured on Disney property, or are you content knowing they’re currently used by a worthwhile charity? Let us know in the comments below. 

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21 Replies to “The Complete History of The Osborne Family Spectacle of Dancing Lights”

  1. I meant so much to so many. For us it was tradition. Sad to see “progress” that ended such a popular attraction. New and current is not always better.

  2. No doubt misses the Osbourne lights every holiday season at WDW. I am glad to see they bring smiles to people in there newer home. I’m glad to have been able to enjoy them several times at MGM/Hollywood Studios.

  3. When we visited WDW during the holidays, the “lights” were one of the main reasons we went at that time of year. Being from New Orleans it was a delight to see the snow falling which I’m surprised that this article didn’t mention. I too hope Disney can find another area and bring back the lights. How about where the River Country Water Park used to be??

  4. I LOVED the Osborne Lights…it was a MUST see for me. We went with family one year and they weren’t “impressed” and didn’t want to see them so we left…I cried and cried and my husband promised me he’s bring me back before we left so I could enjoy them. True to his word he did. Every time we saw them we spent the majority of the evening on the Streets of America – watching the lights…looking for the hidden mickeys…looking for the purple cat…enjoying Mickey Belgium white hot chocolate…wearing our “Osborne Lights” shirts.
    Although I think Star Wars land is amazing I truly wish they could have found another place to display the Osborne Lights…

  5. Regally wish they would bring them back.. they have sooo much space I am sure there is somewhere in property were they can display them.

  6. I didn’t get to go to WDW often during the holiday season being a native of California, but was able to see them evolve over the years and did greatly enjoy them. It was part of the putting me in the holiday season spirit when I was able to get to see them and the many other things Disney did for the holidays. Sort of like a package of events at the various parks that all added up to more then the parts. I was greatly sadden when I heard they were leaving. It is a shame that Disney couldn’t find someway to continue to use them on property as they were very special.

  7. ONE OF THE WORST MISTAKES DISNEY HAS EVER MADE!!🙁. I KNOW ALOT OF PEOPLE FEEL THE SAME WAY🙁. THE OSBORNE LIGHTS IS WHAT MADE CHRISTMAS AT DISNEY SO SPECIAL🙂. A LOT OF US MADE THE TRIP JUST TO EXPERIENCE THE SPECTACULAR & AWE INSPIRING LIGHT SHOW & VILLAGE THAT WAS ONE OF A KIND!!😊. IT WAS LIKE BEING IN A CHRISTMAS WONDERLAND THAT WAS GUARANTEED TO PUT YOU IN THE SPIRIT WITH MEMORIES TO LAST A LIFETIME😊. ITS SUCH A SHAME THAT FUTURE GENERATIONS AT DISNEY WILL NEVER GET TO EXPERIENCE THAT🙁. AND TO REPLACE THAT WITH STARWARS?? THIS WILL GO DOWN IN HISTORY AS ONE OF THE WORST MISTAKES DISNEY HAS EVER MADE🙁

    1. What a beautiful addition to Disney during Holiday season . It gave me goosebumps every time we walked down the streets. We were so disappointed when they discontinued the program. All of Disney’s decisions are NOT the best!

  8. I went to WDW during the holiday season for a second time just to see the Osbourne Christmas lights spectacular. I missed seeing them the first time I visited there at Christmas. You can only imagine how upset I was when my niece told me that Disney took them down. Bad move Disney, bad move.

    1. I’m a HUGE HUGE fan of the channel! The original Osborne house was built by my grandparents. Would love to give even more information if there is ever an article expanding on this one. Molly, Morgan, Breedlove, and the rest of the team are AMAZING!

  9. I only seen the lights once but it still sends a tingle down my spine when I hear the Christmas music and remember myself standing in amongst the lights with fake snow falling.

  10. I visited Disney just to see the Osborne Lights and they were spectacular. I wish they were still at Disney so that everyone who visits for the Christmas Season could see them as I did.

    1. Yes! Disney should bring them back! Saddest Disney day ever when we saw them for the last time. Best Christmas decorations Disney ever had and set to music. It was a spectacular site to behold and sad I will never be able to bring grandchildren to this. America could use a bit of Christmas joy now! Please bring them back 2021!

      1. It was the saddest day ever the last time I saw the Osborne lights. Until today I still think about them every Christmas. This is what drew me to Walt Disney World in December every year. And I still miss the streets of New York.

        1. Absolutely 100% YES ! NOT only did we go 3-5 times every Christmas season, many of our neighbors went to. N fyi: we’ve NEVER went to that Star Wars place