With Thanksgiving over, many Charlotte area homeowners spent Friday not at the mall but on the roof and in the yard, fiddling with light bulbs, plastic Santas and Nativity scenes.
And few are as serious – or as ambitious – about this annual holiday decorating tradition as Bryant Stallings.
For 10 years now, he’s dressed up the Charlotte house he and brother Marshall grew up in with lights galore – he estimated 15,000 bulbs – and an epic array of Christmas figures. He’s following a family tradition that goes back to the 1970s.
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The lit-up lineup for Christmas season 2014: Santas, angels, toy soldiers, candy canes, reindeer, polar bears, snowmen, icicles, Noel candles, a train, a star, Christmas trees, a wooden cross and a fully populated Nativity scene. Even the baby Jesus has a bulb inside that makes him shine in the dark.
But the main attraction in Stallings’ show is the giant rooftop message, spelled out with 18 white letters and lit up with 200 red bulbs:
HAPPY BIRTHDAY JESUS.
“I just love Christmas and I’m trying to get the real meaning of it out there,” said Stallings, 56, a member of First Baptist Church of Charlotte. “I have to put up all these other decorations up to get people to also see what Christmas is really about.”
When the sun goes down, the thousands of blinking red, white and green lights go on. That’s also when the carloads of decoration tourists find their way to the Stallings house at 215 N. Linwood Ave. in Charlotte’s Hoskins community. (The house is just off Brookshire Boulevard, immediately north of Interstate 85.)
Stallings’ older brother, Marshall, who lives in the house, said he gets a light show, too, most nights as he looks out at all the passersby taking pictures of all the decorations.
“All I can see sometimes is flashing lights,” Marshall said. “They’ll take pictures from one end to the other.”
A family tradition
Bryant lives across the street from the house he decorates. This year, he applied the finishing touches – and flipped the switch – on Thanksgiving Day. He plans to keep the decorations up and lighted through Dec. 28, between 5:30 and 10 p.m. (10:30 p.m. on the weekends).
By going all out at Christmas, Bryant is following a family tradition. It began in the 1970s, when he would help his father, a carpenter, light up the house and nearby trees.
Bryant has inherited not only his father’s knack for lighting up the sky, but also the religious fervor that prompted his parents to include a large Nativity scene in their Christmas tableau. Bryant added one likeness of a camel to the small barn-like structure that is now home to still but lighted figures of Mary, Joseph, the baby Jesus, three wise men, and a menagerie of camels, cows, sheep and donkeys.
There’s even a musical component: Bells hanging along the entrance to the barn ring out Christmas carols.
There are other links to the past.
A cedar tree that was four-foot high when Bryant planted it in the 1970s is now about 36 feet high, and lit up with 2,150 lights.
Over the years, Bryant has added a host of features – a merry-go-round he bought for 75 percent off at Home Depot, a Ferris wheel from Kmart, a rope train from a yard sale.
It takes him about three weeks to set everything up. And he estimated it costs him an extra $250 a year in electricity bills. To keep it affordable, he uses LED bulbs whenever he can.
Showing his faith
Bryant also invests a lot of sweat.
He personally made the “Happy Birthday Jesus” sign. It took him and a co-worker about 100 hours to cut the letters from plywood, sand them to smoothness, apply layers of primer and white paint, buy the red bulbs, and then space them four inches apart on the H, the A, the P and so on.
Marshall said his brother Bryant had hoped their mother would live to see the big sign that debuted just before Christmas 2006.
But she died “before she got to see it – on earth anyway,” said Bryant.
He’s sure she’s looking down and smiling at her son’s determination to keep Christ in Christmas with his flair for decorations.
Besides the “Happy Birthday Jesus” sign and the Nativity scene, Bryant added a jutting white cross with red bulbs last year.
“I do it because of Jesus. He’s my Lord and Savior,” he said. “No, I’m not a preacher or a public speaker with a Bible.”
“But,” he added, looking around at all the lights and decorations that put so many in the Christmas spirit, “I do express my feelings this way.”