During a season known for giving and sharing, the Stewart family’s special form of Christmas generosity almost knows no bounds.
They have made a gift of their east Fayetteville home and acre-and-a-half lot, located at 4229 E. Wyman Road, by building a truly vibrant Christmas light display that they open free to the public nightly from 5:30 to 10 p.m. through Jan. 1st.
“It’s a little bit hard to explain how it happened,” Carlin Stewart said recently while mingling with visitors to the display on a chilly night. “We moved here in 2003, and we were excited to decorate the house for Christmas. We had lights on the house and one inflatable. It was really a pretty small start. But we added more and more each year, and this is the result.”
This season the display features more 370,000 lights and an estimated 250 inflatable Christmas-themed displays. Together the lights and decorations, which feature a bevy of familiar cartoon characters, creates a wonderous sight sure to bring a sparkle to the eyes of children of all ages.
“Honestly, we’re not quite sure how many inflatables we have,” Kim Stewart said. “We had a little girl tell us this year that she counted 250. We’re taking her word for it.”
The Stewarts have access to a handy field for parking, but with 5,000 to 6,000 visitors viewing the lights on Fridays and Saturdays and 1,000 to 1,500 on weeknights, the Stewarts suggest arriving early and carpooling if possible.
“It can get a little hectic, particularly on the weekends, but with a little patience everyone can have a good time,” Stewart said. “I think the lights keep most everyone in a good mood.”
The latest feature added is a Christmas train large enough for entire families to take a short tour of the enchanted wonderland of lights, sights and sounds.
“We love the train,” Kim Stewart, Carlin’s wife, said. “It’s such a fun addition. Trains and Christmas just seem to go together It was a big investment, around $20,000, but it’s worth it when you see the smile and joy it brings to the kids.
“It’s a very safe ride. Parents can get on with their children, and the train is geared to stop if one of the doors on the cars opens while the ride is going on. But yes, it’s been very popular this year.”
Rides on the train are $1 per person or $3 for a family of five to offset the cost of the purchase of the train.
“It’s free to come out and enjoy the lights,” said Stewart, who with four teen and preteen children understands the cost of entertainment for a family. “We charge for the train to defray the cost of train and its upkeep, but it’s only a dollar. We’re not out to make money off of it. We just enjoy sharing with the community.”
Santa Claus is on hand each night to greet visitors and to pose for photos. There are also candy-cane stripped boxes located around the display for children to deposit letters to Santa. Santa replies to all letters that include a return address.
“Yes, we’re lucky to have ol’ Santa here each night,” Kim Stewart said. “He’ll even be here for Christmas Eve and Christmas Day.”
One of Carlin’s favorite features is a snow machine that is cranked up for guests to enjoy on the weekends.
While the Stewarts began decorating in 2003, they opened the display to the public in 2013.
“We had so many compliments on the display from folks who noticed it and just drove by to see that we decided to open it up for people to enjoy it up close,” Carlin Stewart said.
Kim Stewart, 41, said their electric bill jumps from $250 a month on average up to $1,500 for the month of December, but she quickly added that the smiles make it worthwhile.
“We have repeat visitors who have come each year,” she said. “We’ve been told it’s something that families look forward to each year. Hearing compliments like that makes all that goes into it worthwhile. Just spreading a little joy and family fun at this tie of the year.”
Carlin Stewart, 38, said the display is not far from his mind all year long, but the tangible work begins in August and September with the stringing of the lights. The Stewart’s four children — Cody Stewart (16), Autumn Stewart (13), Conner McReynolds (14) and Gracee McReynolds (11) — all help with stringing the lights as do a few other family friends and volunteers.
“We don’t really follow a grand plan,” Carlin Stewart said. “We try to vary the display each year, and we add to it each year. It’s kind of whatever we feel when we begin putting the decorations up.”
Kim Stewart said the secret to adding to the display each year is post-Christmas shopping for more lights and display items.
“The decorations and lights are always discounted the day after Christmas, but the big savings come on Jan. 1 and when the stores are really trying to move the items,” Kim Stewart said. “We’ll spend $1,500 or so on new lights and decorations each year after Christmas.”