The elaborate Christmas in Dixie display of holiday lights will not be aglow this year in Crawfordville, Ga., but a similar electric extravaganza can be viewed in Metter, Ga.
More than half-a-million lights will be used on secular and religious "Nights of Lights" displays at Guido Gardens on Georgia Highway 121, the international headquarters of Michael Guido's Seeds From the Sower ministry. The gardens are about a 90-minute drive from Augusta.
There is no charge to walk the grounds and no pressure for any offerings.
The lights will be turned on at 6 p.m. Saturday and will remain on from 6 to 10 p.m. daily through Jan. 1.
Among the new displays are lighted scampering squirrels, the new "Shepherd Hill" with its three-dimensional shepherds and three 4-foot-wide butterflies.
These will join the Candy Cane Lane with its band of snowmen, the soaring angels, Noah and his wife under a big rainbow with their ark and animals, dancing dolphins, the lighted glass chapel, swimming swans, climbing bears, the lighted 8-foot-high globe and the traditional manger scene with an animated Mary rocking her baby.
"We averaged about 500 to 600 people a night last year," the Rev. Guido said in a telephone interview. "There are travel agencies who bus people in from Florida and Alabama. We've got one tour group coming this year from Tampa with 50 people. They drive over from Hilton Head, and we have a bunch coming down from Augusta."
Performing at 6 p.m. Saturdays in November and December will be: the Pilgrims Quartet (Nov. 28), Billy Holloway and his puppets (Dec. 5), the Praise Vine Singers (Dec. 12) and the Prime Example comedy team of Fred Passmore and Jon Lawhon (Dec. 19).
"We had some Army people offering us live camels for a display, but I told them that Audrey (Mrs. Guido) would probably divorce me if I let them graze in the gardens outside our home."
All of this annual gigantic undertaking began innocently in 1992 during a visit to my mother, Ella Rhodes, in Metter. I took a friend, Eddie Smith, to see the Rev. Guido's four-acre landscaped grounds. The Rev. Guido took us on a personal tour of the grounds, including the teahouse, gazebo and small bridges.
"You know, I bet this place would look really nice decorated at Christmas," Mr. Smith casually remarked. To which the Rev. Guido replied, "We've never tried that."
Mr. Smith volunteered to help, and I went along with the plan, which we quickly dubbed "Christmas With the Sower."
Every weekend that November, we went down to Metter to visit my mother and help decorate the gardens with red ribbons and white lights.
We decided to have live music on Saturday night, Dec. 12, and Sunday afternoon, Dec. 13. I made some calls to some entertainer friends in Augusta, and not a one turned me down. Performing that year were the Salvation Army Band; Flo Carter and her mother, Ada Collins; Lucy Johnson and her son Kevin; the Frierson Trio (Connie, Sonya and Roy); and Michael Holt of Metter.
Besides the hard work that went into bringing off the successful venture (with its piddling 36,000 lights that first year), it gave me a chance to spend more time with my mother. Three months after that Christmas, she died of a massive heart attack.
The other day I got a note from Michael Guido, who wrote, "I thank God for you and Eddie for starting us on this exciting adventure that grows and glows with every year."
I am the thankful one this Thanksgiving and Christmas season for fate and God allowing me to spend so much time with my mother in her final months and for helping to start something that still brings joy to thousands of people.
So, if you get a chance to visit the Rev. Guido's magical lighted gardens this Christmas season, be sure and tell him that I said hello and wish him many more lighted Christmases to come.
Don Rhodes can be reached at (706) 823-3214 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.
To get to the gardens take U.S. Highway 25 to three miles south of Millen, Ga., and then turn right on Georgia Highway 121 to Metter. Guido Gardens will be on the left going into town.