Visitors to the light show here get to see a 43-year-old Christmas tradition.
The Meadow Lights are 25 acres full of Christmas lights, including larger-than-life angels, candles, candy canes, Santa Claus and nativity scenes. The holiday destination is open through Dec. 31.
Roy Johnson began the light show for his young son and daughter 43 years ago. “We started off small,” he said. “It was just something that kept growing and got bigger each year.”
Eventually, Johnson bought commercial lights and spent days stringing them on his property with the help of family and five hired workers. The attraction has grown to include a store with about 300 old-fashioned candies, a small train, a carousel and a chance to talk to Santa Claus as late as Christmas Eve.
The attraction opens the Friday before Thanksgiving and goes through Dec. 31. Thousands visit during those two months, Johnson said. The collection is so large that Johnson stores the lights in a warehouse and five tractor-trailer rigs.
Visiting is free, though the train ride costs money. The store brings in some cash to recoup the cost of set-up and electricity.
But how much does the electricity cost? “That’s something we’ve never told nobody,” Johnson said. “If we did, they probably wouldn’t believe it.”.
“We don’t really do it for the money,” he added, laughing. “We enjoy seeing the people and the children and them having a good time.”
Ronina Huff, 51, is Johnson’s daughter. She has two children of her own, ages 24 and 21. “They’ve grown up pretty much right here in the lights, and they’ve been wanting to help ever since they were little,” she said.
Huff said she loves that the lights are a tradition not only for her family but thousnads of others as well.
Recently, Huff saw a mother insisting that her children, even ones in their late teens, get a photo with Santa Claus. “She said they’ve been coming and getting their picture made ever since they were little,” Huff said. “So they’ve made that a part of their Christmas tradition, and that’s what makes it all worthwhile to me.”
Huff said her father started the tradition when she was just 7 or 8 years old. “It really started with a Christmas tree and a mannequin standing beside the tree in our den,” she said. “And that kind of attracted people, and then he started adding more lights and then adding lights outside.”
“As the people started riding and looking, it started being a little bit bigger, and it just grew through the years,” she said.
Huff described Meadow Lights as a family effort; she and her children, her brother and his children, cousins and aunts all help their father set up.
Benson Mayor William Massengill said the Meadow Lights bring traffic through Benson. “Any time we have something this close to our community that draws people in is a positive thing,” he said. “I think it’s something that we all enjoy, and we’re glad to see as part of our community.”
Massengill said the lights remind people of the Christmas season. “It’s sort of fascinating honestly to remember when I was much younger riding down there and seeing the lights and seeing just how it’s expanded,” he said.