Maybe it was the free concert put on by Duke Mason and his band. Or perhaps it was the lure of free teddy bears handed out to youngsters 12 and under.

Maybe it was the free concert put on by Duke Mason and his band. Or perhaps it was the lure of free teddy bears handed out to youngsters 12 and under.

Whatever the reason, there was a dramatic increase in attendance over last year on Friday night at the annual Christmas lighting ceremony at the Precious Moments Chapel near Carthage.

"I would say we had 400 to 500 more people this year over last year's ceremony," said Terri Heckmaster, president of the Precious Moments Supporting Foundation who has been with Precious Moments almost the entire time since it opened to the public in 1989.

Although Mason, a Precious Moments regular from 1996 to 2006, had performed at a few lighting ceremonies in the past, this was his first time back since the lighting ceremony was resurrected in 2010.

"We had done the lighting ceremony for probably 10 to 15 years, then stopped and started it up again three years ago," said Heckmaster. "This was the first time we tied a concert with it though."

Music at the concert focused on Christmas themes and Lowell Mason, Duke's dad, sang an impromptu song of his own from his front-row seat in the audience.

All proceeds from the concert go toward purchasing toys for the LaVerne Williams Carthage Police Department's Christmas party, which Mason and his band will perform at on Dec. 14 at Memorial Hall.

"LaVerne Williams was a Carthage policeman who loved Christmas and children and for many years he orchestrated a Christmas party for them," Heckmaster said. "This is Duke's charity for those children through the Carthage Police Department. Precious Moments has contributed to the cause before but this is the first time to do it through a concert."

Not only was there a substantial increase in visitors to the event but, also, more lights to be turned on than the 50,000 as advertised.

"It was probably closer to 55,000 to 60,000," Heckmaster said.

The lighting ceremony was timed to coincide with Branson and Silver Dollar City kicking off the holiday season with ceremonies of their own on Saturday.

Other features at the Friday event were caroling around the 18-foot Christmas tree in the Candy Land-themed visitors' center and Fairview Christian Church Vocal Ensemble, with Pastor John Mouton, leading activities in the chapel before lights were switched on.

Precious Moments, located at 4321 Chapel Road, is open 9 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. Sunday through Thursday and 9 a.m. to 8 p.m. Friday and Saturday. More information is available by calling 358-7599 or on line at

The non-denominational chapel is the creation of artist Samuel J. Butcher as a gift of thanks to God, recognizing the many blessings given by God. The chapel has often been described as “America’s Sistine Chapel” as an artful representation of Michelangelo’s own Sistine Chapel in Rome.