In the fall of 1950, singer Bing Crosby first crooned the lyrics that have become a Christmas standard — and go a long way toward reminding us how the holidays, especially Christmas, impact the …
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In the fall of 1950, singer Bing Crosby first crooned the lyrics that have become a Christmas standard — and go a long way toward reminding us how the holidays, especially Christmas, impact the five human senses.
Among the reminders in the song “Silver Bells,” are lines that say “on every street corner you’ll hear silver bells” and that “strings of street lights, even stop lights blink a bright red and green.”
If those instances are among notice that Christmas — and its calendar partner, New Year’s — are with us, then it’s safe to say the holidays are alive and well in Chatham County.
Among the most noticeable nods to the holidays is one about halfway between Pittsboro and Siler City on the south side of U.S. Hwy. 64 at a spot known to locals as “Midway Hill.” It’s the home of Michelle and Scott Mace, but some local children refer to it as “the house that loves Christmas” because of the thousands of lights that glow from late November until sometime in January, depending largely on the weather.
“We bought the house in the early 2000s,” Michelle says, “and started with the lights in ’03 and ’04. We had a hair under 45,000 last year. There’ll probably be 50,000 when we take them down this year and put them up.”
The “put up” she’s referring to there is when they’re packed up and stored; the “put up” as when the lights are out for display in the yard and adjoining property, including a barn high on a hill behind a pond that makes the lights reflect in the water, aims for Thanksgiving Day.
“By that night,” Scott says, “we have 80 to 85 per cent of them out, depending on the weather.”
With that many individual lights on homemade balls — some as high as 100 feet in trees — and yard displays, garlands, figurine blow molds and huge lighted snowflakes on the housetop, you might think it costs a fortune to light up the hillside for six weeks. Scott says that’s not the case. Most of the bulbs are LED, not incandescent, and require less electricity.
“It’s no more than $300,” Scott says, “a small price to pay.”
Lights and displays are set up and taken down a section at a time. Some are simply set in various places in the yard; others are hoisted or shot into trees with a landscaping slingshot. The snowflakes on the house are magnetized and stick to the metal roof. When it’s time to take displays down, ropes and hoists are used to lower the displays. Those standing in the yards are simply moved and packed away.
With all that’s involved, a logical question is “Why do all this?”
Scott says it’s all about pleasure.
“I know how much I enjoy riding around, seeing lights,” he said. “It seemed to me that fewer and fewer people were doing it so we just started and added more and more. We began to realize how much people liked and appreciated them. One year we got a card from someone who had to drive a long way to work and came by very early in the morning. They told us how much it meant to them and how they started looking forward to seeing the lights. That’s when we started ramping up.”
Adding more and more displays became easier, Michelle says, “when we bought the barn and land and were able to expand between our yard and that property. In 2014, we really began to spread out.”
Public reaction has been very favorable, says Glenda Johnson, Michelle’s mother.
“When we started doing this, people would come to see and stop by,” she says. “They’d leave cookies and cards; some would be in tears. One time a woman who was depressed stopped and told us we made her Christmas. Holidays can be hard, but they shouldn’t. We’re celebrating the greatest miracle ever.”
While the sights of Christmas and New Year can impact the sense of sight, there are two others that are also a big part of the holidays — namely, taste and smell. Whether it’s chestnuts roasting on an open fire, homemade cookies and fudge in Grandma’s kitchen, a ham or turkey in the roaster or commercial outlets like Bear Creek’s Southern Supreme Fruitcake, smelling and eating can take center stage this time of the year.
Randy Scott, one of the principals in Southern Supreme, noted his business was closed Christmas Eve.
“Even if we hadn’t planned to, we would have had to,” he says. “We didn’t have anything left to sell.”
For many folks, Christmas conjures up visions, and reality, of one bountiful meal after another, with parties and receptions mixed in. On New Year’s Day, for large numbers of people, there’s the traditional Southern meal of pork (for forward progress, since pigs root forward), collards or other greens (for money) and black-eyed peas. Peas were considered lucky for Southerners since Sherman’s northern troops thought them good only for animal food and didn’t destroy them as they pillaged the South during the War Between the States.
There’s also, of course, the “sounds of the season” — those hymns of old sung only this time of year, novelty songs such as “I Saw Mommy Kissing Santa Claus,” the hauntingly beautiful strains of standards like “The Little Drummer Boy,” countless church Cantatas and even “The Nutcracker.” And what church service is complete without a reading of the story of the birth of Jesus in chapter 2 of the Gospel of Luke?
And while touch may be down on the short end of the stick, who can forget the prickly feel of needles as trees are decorated and the sticking of holly leaves as wreathes are made and hung?
When the holidays come, many folks find themselves in the same place Glenda Johnson says she and her family are with their Midway Hill light show. “We live for this,” she says. “But it is noisy on (highway) 64, especially when truckers see the lights as they’re coming down the hill and hit their jake brake and blow their air horn at 3 a.m. to say they like it.”
The question arises: will the show get any bigger?
“I don’t know,” Scott Mace says. “There’s more and more traffic and it gets faster and faster. There’s no way to drive in here and turn around.”
But ask Michelle the same question and you might get a bit different answer.
“We’ll definitely have more lights next year,” she says. “We hit the after-Christmas sales the other day.”