Once in 15 years, the Honeycutts did not decorate their house at the corner of Landsburg Drive and Ten Ten Road just southwest of Garner. That year, 2010, he had people stopping by anyway.
“They wanted to be sure that no one died here,” Lin Honeycutt said. “That was kind of funny.”
Honeycutt’s yard serves as a holiday staple as likely the most elaborately decorated house in the Garner area, drawing motorists from all over and adding color to their holiday season.
Few stones are left unturned. The roof is covered in blinking strands of lights slightly less dense than Clark Griswold’s in the movie Christmas Vacation. Lights wrap tree trunks to dozens of feet in the air. Various illuminated iron-wrought Christmas characters, buildings and vehicles litter the yard. A substantial nativity scene including a choir of angels complete with “Happy Birthday Jesus” in lights sits in the middle of the large front yard.
Honeycutt said he works on it over the course of a couple of months; he said could finish in a couple weeks but the store he owns sells Christmas lights and it’s the busiest time of year. Go figure.
No one died that year his lights didn’t light up that corner; they had just decorated the 401 Par Golf course in a partnership on a hayride venture; a ton of work marred by a particularly cold, wet and snowy winter led Honeycutt to nix ever doing it again.
He missed the reactions he usually gets. On a night last week multiple cars came up during a span of 15 minutes, windows opening and occupants heard calling the lights beautiful.
About a week before, Honeycutt said a van pulled up beside him and a man told him the lights looked great. After a “thanks” and exchange of “Marry Christmases,” the man told him that he had just gotten out of the hospital and that it was the first place he had his mother take him. Honeycutt asked about his health, figuring he was coming home all better.
“I’m hoping I will to make it to Christmas,” said the man according to Honeycutt.
The man apparently has cancer.
“That really touched me and encouraged me more. I worked on the lights that night until midnight,” Honeycutt said.
He also received a note from someone who worked at WakeMed and drove by during the daily commute. It said the lights lifted the person’s spirits after a bad day.
Honeycutt owned a transmission repair shop for 30 years until 2009. But a decade ago, a building became vacant just three doors north of his shop on Wilmington Street in South Raleigh. He bought it, and followed his passion of Christmas lights, one he said he’s had since he was a kid.
“There was nothing in Raleigh for what we wanted to do,” Honeycutt said.
He keeps the store open all year, boasts that everything -- except the individual lights -- are made in America, and now his passion is his full-time job.
“Needless to say the yard’s a good advertisement for our business,” Honeycutt said.
This year he threw in a twist – one that might let down perhaps his biggest fan.
He said every light except the strands on the roof are LED lights this year. That might disappoint Duke Energy; he said typically he drops about $1,000-$1,500 extra each year on about 45 days of electric holiday wonder.
“It’ll be interesting to see how the bill comes out this year,” Honeycutt said.
History of lights
Christmas lights trace their roots to an 18th century upper-class German custom of affixing candles to Christmas trees. The Christmas tree traces its heritage most directly to pagans of northern Europe, who like many ancient cultures worshiped evergreens as part of winter solstice celebrations.
A friend and partner of Thomas Edison, Edward H. Johnson, put the first string of electric Christmas lights together and onto a tree in 1882 according to the Library of Congress. In 1895, President Grover Cleveland had the White House Christmas tree illuminated with electric bulbs. Many say that pushed them into acceptance for a public initially distrustful of the invention of electric light – despite the fact that Christmas candles frequently caused house fires.
The Rockefeller Center Christmas Tree, perhaps the most iconic of both American Christmas trees and lights, was first put up in 1931, then again in 1933 – the year of the first lighting ceremony – and every year since.
McAdenville N.C., a small town outside of Charlotte, claims to have conceived non-Christmas tree lights by stringing lights on everyday outdoor trees in 1956. However, around that time other areas also saw popularity of light decorations grow. Philidelphia held its first “Christmas Lights Show” in 1956 as well.