For 43 years, Don and Lynelle Wilbanks have created a beautiful Christmas light display as a gift for the community. The display features a large star shining down from 75 feet up (left) onto the creek below. Nearby are Joseph, Mary and Baby Jesus. (Christy Perry for The Cullman Tribune)
Everyone in the community, they see them and know. They look forward to them. It’s our gift to them.”Don Wilbanks
CULLMAN COUNTY – For 43 years, Don and Lynelle Wilbanks have created a beautiful Christmas light display as a gift for the community. Their home on U.S. Highway 278 West across from Spring Hill Baptist Church, about 9 miles west of downtown Cullman, has brought smiles to many. The Wilbankses say the lights are a visual representation of the extraordinary birth of Jesus.
Both Don and Lynelle are retired Cullman City Schools educators. Don coached numerous sports teams and taught math and science. He is a member of the Cullman County Sports Hall of Fame.
What began as a small light display has expanded over the years. The display features a large star shining down from 75 feet up onto the creek below. Nearby are Joseph, Mary and Baby Jesus.
Don explained the meaning of his work, “When God sent us the notice that Jesus was coming, he sent a star. The purest light of all light is white light. It’s only when white light is separated that you get color. That’s the reason a prism separates light. So, the white light that comes from the star and everything the star touches on the creek is white.”
Colored lights are also used in the display but only on lower areas on the ground. A large dogwood tree in the front yard is covered in white lights. The tree was recognized several years ago as the second largest dogwood in Alabama. The Wilbankses believe it may be the largest now. A pond on the rear of the property is spanned by a bridge. The lights create a gorgeous reflection on the still water.
A charming bridge across the creek is also illuminated with lights. The bridge connects Don and Lynelle’s property with their daughter’s home next door. Two of their grandchildren, Peyton and Cole Chamblee, live there and they love the lights. Don said they help their grandfather more and more each year.
Don is also deliberate about when he first turns on the display.
He said, “We turn them on Thanksgiving night. That is the day we give thanks for all the blessings we have received. Our biggest blessing is when God gave us Jesus. I didn’t want it commercial. I wanted it to where you could see what Christmas is really about.”
Don begins checking his lights in October and starts putting them up on Nov. 1. He doesn’t keep count of how many lights he has but said they do take up a large amount of storage in his shop. If a strand has lights not working, he keeps that strand out until he can get replacement bulbs. He then uses the strands the next year, so the lights are in rotation.
Shared Don, “When Wal-Mart first puts its Christmas out, I go up there and look for all the white light replacement bulbs. They are usually 10 per pack and cost maybe a dollar. I’ll buy 75-100 of them.”
The Wilbankses wanted the nativity to look life-like so they searched for the right mannequins. Lynelle found the current ones in New Jersey. She remembered an incident years ago when a couple of students were going to house sit while she and her family were away.
Lynelle laughed, “I was showing the boys where we kept everything, and I took them out back to show them something they would need. They were surprised when I opened the door and two naked mannequins were standing there. I explained what that was about, and we had a good laugh.”
The display is on seven to eight timers that turn the display on at 5 every night and off at 10. The lights come on every evening beginning Thanksgiving evening and are turned off on Jan. 1. The Wilbankses have lights connected to four different meters on their property.
Don smiled, “The Cullman (Electric) Co-op just loves me! I’m their favorite customer this time of year.”
He estimates his bill increases by $325 during the holidays.
Taking the lights down each year also has its challenges.
Explained Don, “The temperature needs to be above 40 degrees to put the lights up or take them down. The plastic around the wires becomes hard and stiff when it’s cold.”
He added, “I’m 73. God has blessed me, and my health is still good, but it gets harder every year. I don’t know how much longer I’m going to be able to keep putting them up. My children tell me we have to continue, and they will come help make sure the lights go up. Everyone in the community, they see them and know. They look forward to them. It’s our gift to them.”
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