Illustration by AnnaMaria Jacob/The Anniston Star
Long before Rudolph lit up the sky one foggy Christmas Eve with his very shiny nose, or Ralphie’s dad lit up the neighborhood with the soft glow of a fishnet-clad leg lamp, it's been a Christmas tradition — bright lights illuminating the cold winter night — ever since the Star of Bethlehem led the way to the little Lord Jesus on that first Christmas night.
Today, instead of red-nose reindeer and Italian light fixtures, we mark the season with inflatable snowmen, spotlit Nativities and string upon string of twinkling lights.
Every holiday hall-decker has a different style — be it tasteful white lights dotting the manicured shrubs or a multi-hued sea of electricity that can be seen from space. No matter what style of décor fills your family with Christmas cheer, a holiday display is just a short drive away.
So fill the travel mugs with cocoa, find some Christmas tunes on the radio and follow the map to the bright lights of Calhoun County.
• Friendship Santa on McIntosh Road: If driving on the outskirts of Calhoun County you happen to spot Santa perched atop a big red sleigh led by a 17-foot wooden Rudolph, be sure to honk. Friendship Santa, as they call him, (aka Avery Robertson) has been spreading holiday cheer from his self-built yuletide fairytale on McIntosh Road for three years now. Friday and Saturday nights between now and Christmas, park the car and stay awhile — Santa’s helpers will be serving cookies and hot chocolate, holiday music will fill the air and Friendship Santa will be on hand for photos with the kids (so bring a camera).
• Gunnels Lane and Friendship Road: Taking their cues from the Robertson’s production, a number of Oxford homes make a convincing case for taking the long way back to town. After bidding a fond farewell to Friendship Santa, continue on down McIntosh to Gunnels Lane — a dark, lonely stretch of road until you round a corner to find the first of two sprawling displays of classic Christmas decor. At the second, a starry exhibit at the corner of Gunnels and County Line Road, take a right and make your way to Friendship Road. Look for the gazebo wrapped in strings of white lights, then cruise the surrounding neighborhoods as long as time and sleepy children will allow.
• Forest Lane: There are decorations to be found on a drive through the Glenwood Terrace area off 10th Street, but the star of this tastefully adorned community is Forest Lane — starting with a charming ’50s flashback on the corner of Montvue Road, complete with the brightly colored oversized bulbs and vintage plastic Santas of a simpler time. From there, follow the trail of twinkling miniature Christmas trees past elegantly lit homes until crossing under a delicate bridge of white lights. If you’re one for wandering, there’s a sprinkling of unique and festive sights to be found down Fairway and Sunset drives and on up the mountain. Or you can head into the heart of the season’s action in downtown Anniston.
• Quintard Avenue: If your daily commute doesn’t take you down Quintard Avenue, be sure to take the slow lane past the Parks and Recreation Department’s annual display. For more than 15 years the department has been lighting up the median — today spanning from Sixth to 18th streets — with strings of colored lights and holiday scenes.
• Noble Street: The Spirit of Anniston’s Christmas on Noble series has made downtown Noble Street the epicenter of Christmas festivities this season. But even on boring old weeknights, its retro small-town vibe is worth a drive. The row of blazing bulbs running along the tops of taller buildings and block after block of already charming streetlamps wrapped in garland and oversized lights mingle with street’s neon signs and brightly colored shop awnings to create a warm and festive scene worthy of Norman Rockwell. Find a parking spot near 11th Street so you can get a closer look at the exquisite holiday window displays at Classic on Noble, Rabbit Hutch Gift Shop and Griffins Jewelers.
• Old Gadsden Highway: Jerry and Debbie Goble’s massive winter wonderland in Saks has been attracting sightseers for 12 years. After turning off U.S. 431, drive slowly down Old Gadsden Highway as there are several homes on your route worth a look — one you might actually take for the main event. But there’s no mistaking the Goble’s annual display of more than 30,000 lights, including a massive twinkling canopy over the driveway, and handcrafted wooden recreations of Santa and his reindeer, intricate North Pole Village, the Nativity and more. Due to an injury sustained during his wonderland’s erection, Jerry won’t be donning the Santa suit this year, but the grounds are open to visitors wanting a photo op or just a closer look.
• Indian Oaks: Back on U.S. 431, head north toward Indian Oaks Country Club. If you’ve got the kids, take a quick detour down Lenlock Lane. Just past Cherokee Trail you’ll find a cheerful spectacle of the inflatable characters and flashing rainbow lights that kids go nuts for. Cherokee Trail will lead you into the Indian Oaks district where you’ll find two streets of stately brick homes elegantly decked in thousands of white lights and classic holly and ivy trimmings. Follow the trail of lights running down either side of Pawnee Drive and Pueblo Pass, and watch for the twinkling reflections as you round Doss Lake.
• Scott Avenue in Weaver: To the east of Indian Oaks another Goble wonderland awaits. Follow Saks Road into Weaver, making your way to Scott Avenue where you’ll find enough inflatable holiday whimsy at the home of Kenneth and Tina Goble to spark a bit of sibling rivalry. This display alone is worth the drive, but those Goble brothers’ Christmas spirit must be contagious — just as Jerry seems to have inspired his neighbors on Old Gadsden Highway, so is the path to Scott Avenue dotted with festive diversions (next-door neighbor with the “Bah Humbug” sign notwithstanding). Newberry Drive and Cohaven Street in particular are worth a glance on your way out of Weaver.
MAKE A NIGHT OF IT
For die-hard Christmas enthusiasts, the holiday lights tour doesn’t have to end in Calhoun County. Just a half-hour drive up U.S. 431, you’ll find some of the most celebrated Christmas displays in the state. Worried about keeping little ones occupied, and bigger ones interested, on the way up? Take a left on Alabama 144 in Ohatchee for a quick detour around Robanna Circle. More than a few residents of this quiet street have decked their halls with enough quaint Christmas cheer to keep everyone’s spirits bright till Gadsden.
• First Baptist Church of Glencoe: The fourth annual light show, set to musical accompaniment courtesy of 90.5 FM, runs three times an hour, from 5:30-10:30 p.m. Sunday through Thursday and 5:30 p.m. to midnight Friday and Saturday. 103 N. College St., Glencoe. For more information, call 256-492-2460 or visit Facebook.com/glencoelights.
• Gilley Road in Ballplay: A holiday tradition for nearly 30 years, Gilley’s Christmas Lights draws seasonal sightseers from all over the region with more than 70,000 bulbs worth of mechanical light installations. 413 Gilley Road, Hokes Bluff. For more information, call 256-490-4828.
• Noccalula Falls: Christmas at the Falls at Noccalula Falls attracts thousands of visitors each year with enchanting light displays, train rides and walks through Pioneer Village. Gates opened nightly from 5-9 p.m. 1600 Noccalula Road, Gadsden. For more information, call 256-549-4663.