By Adam Armour/The Itawamba County Times
In Itawamba County, Jerry Stubblefield might just be the king of Christmas, though it’s a title he’d likely not claim.
As is said, “heavy is the head that wears the crown.” In Stubblefield’s case, that crown has been crafted with thousands of little lights.
“I enjoy the Christmas season and what it represents,” he said, then reconsidered. “Well, yeah, I guess you can say I’m a big Christmas person. That’s the time I can go buy myself anything I want and blame it on Santa Claus.”
From behind the desk in his JESCO office, Stubblefield loosed a full, boisterous laugh. On the wall behind him hung a picture of his younger self standing above a bear he’d hunted and killed. To his right, the head of an elk extended from the wall.
Tall, broad-shouldered and frank in discussion, Stubblefield doesn’t seem the type of man who might spend three months of the year wrangling Christmas decorations. Yet, that’s exactly what he’s done since 1980.
Three weeks before Thanksgiving, Stubblefield begins hauling out his Christmas decorations and setting them up around his Rogers Lane home. This involves slightly more work than most would be willing to put in. Each of his annual displays features dozens of hand-constructed lighted characters, animated light patterns and thousands of lights. Inside his home, there are a total of eight fully-decorated Christmas trees.
The display takes weeks to set up, sometimes utilizing as many as eight people and a crane borrowed from JESCO. The lights have their own breaker box, and, once lit, make his home shine like a supernova. It can be seen from several streets over.
He laughed again, the kind that suggests he might just be exasperated with himself.
“I always turn it on the Friday before Thanksgiving,” he said. “That gives me a weekend and a few days to get the bugs worked out if there are any – and there always are. That way, they’re on by Thanksgiving.
“Besides that, it’s so dang much trouble to do it,” he said, shaking his head. “You’d hate to set all that stuff up and leave it up for one weekend. If I had to do that, I wouldn’t do it.”
Stubblefield began this annual project more than 30 years ago as a sort of challenge to himself. He said at one time the Fulton Civic Club gave out blue ribbons to the homes most lavishly decorated for the Christmas season, and he had set his mind on nabbing one of his own.
“I’ve gone way past the blue ribbon, now,” he said, shaking his head again. “I do what I do for the children of the community. They seem to enjoy it. And, I get a lot of very-appreciated responses from people.”
Trips past Stubblefield’s home have become a local Christmas tradition on par with attending the Main Street parade. An average of 200 cars pass by his house each night to look at the display (Stubblefield uses an automatic counter and a little algebra to determine the figure) compared to the 40 that pass his way when the lights aren’t up (he takes this number into account when making his holiday calculations). In total, he’s estimated more than 6,000 people have already swung by his way this year to check them out.
“I have a lot of people who e-mail me about the lights and tell me that it’s part of their Christmas tradition,” he said.
Once again, he said it’s about making people happy. After all, that’s what Christmas should be about.
A big part of the charm of Stubblefield’s display lies in the hand-crafted figures he creates. Each year, he begins thinking of ideas for new characters, though in truth the final selection is largely determined through the helpful suggestions of friends’ children.
“I’ll buy a coloring book with whatever it is they mention and try to think of ways to create them in lights,” he said, adding that characters such as Spongebob Squarepants, Winnie the Pooh and Barney have all been created this way.
Still, some characters are easier to create than others.
“Some you simply can’t do,” he said. As an example, Stubblefield said he once considered creating Spider-Man one year; but the intricate designs on the superhero’s costume would have likely resulted in a mess.
“If you tried to do that with lighting, it would just look like one big blob,” Stubblefield said. “There would be no outline you could use to make it look like Spider-Man. It would just be solid lights.”
Each year, he tries to add a new figure or two, just to keep things interesting. This year, he made a particularly stunning change by switching his lighting from the traditional string lights to LED bulbs. The difference is very, very noticeable.
“It is bright; a lot brighter than I thought it was going to be,” he said, grinning in an “aw shucks” kind of way.
These lights will run every night from 5 p.m. until 10 p.m. through the end of the year. When asked about his electric bill, Stubblefield laughed again.
“Yeah, it goes up a little,” he said, verbally brushing the question away.
When the end of the year rolls by, Stubblefield begins the month-long process of disassembling everything and storing it for next year when it will all come back out again.
He said he’d keep doing it for as long as his 67-year-old frame would allow.
“I’ll do it as long as my health holds up and it’s not too much trouble. It gets hard hauling all that stuff up that hill,” he said.
With a moment of thought and another full laugh, he added that he’d retain his crown as “King of Christmas” as long as people still enjoyed his reign.
“The worst thing in the world would be setting all that stuff out and then nobody comes by to look at it,” he said. “The day I set all that stuff out just for me will be the day I stop doing it.”