Christmas 2017: The Christmas Light Drive-Thru in Hicksville, Ohio

keep christ in christmasMy wife, oldest daughter, and I, along with several of our children and grandchildren, recently attended the Christmas Light Drive-Thru at the Defiance County Fairgrounds in Hicksville, Ohio. Attended by thousands of people from Northwest Ohio, Northeast Indiana, and Southern Michigan, the drive-thru is a mishmash of lighted secular and Christian displays. Thousands of dollars and man-hours go into putting on the largest Christmas light display in the area. Volunteers at the entrance held donation buckets for attendees to donate. Not knowing what awaited me beyond the entrance, I threw in a $5 bill.

While the trappings of secular Christmas were everywhere we looked, it became very clear to us that Jesus, along with Christian nationalism, were the true stars of the show. At both the entrance and exit, there were lighted American flag displays. Later in drive-thru, we passed a lighted memorial to the Twin Towers in New York (yeah, it struck me as bizarrely strange too). We later drove by a display that said that God gave the us two things: the cross Jesus died upon and the flag of the United States of America.  This display, in particular, was a perfect example of how fused Christianity and right-wing political beliefs lie in the minds rural Midwesterners.

More than a few displays touted Christian clichés: Jesus is the Reason for the Season, Keep Christ in Christmas, to name two. My favorite display was one of a shirtless Santa lounging on a beach. After being assaulted by a barrage of Christian Christmas messages, Santa Bruce and Polly were ready for a trip to the beach too, along with a steady stream of alcoholic beverages.

There was nothing in the Christmas Light Drive-Thru that surprised me. I know rural Northwest Ohio quite well. It is, after all, the land of my birth and where I have spent most of my adult life. This is the land of conservative Christianity, right-wing politics, and Christian nationalism. Recent local outrage over Defiance College football players refusing to stand for the National Anthem revealed that Jesus and the GOP — God’s Only Party — are very much alive and well. Of the numerous letters written to the Defiance Crescent-News about the kneeling players, only three letter writers, including yours truly, supported their actions. The Christmas Light Drive-Thru, then, serves as a reminder of who rules the roost in rural Ohio — Jesus and right-wing politics. I am surprised that the Drive-Thru didn’t have a display of three wise men standing before a crèche while saluting an American flag flapping in the breeze over the white baby Jesus’ manger.

The people behind the Christmas Drive-Thru are decent, good people who simply in their actions reflect the tribal beliefs of most denizens of rural Northwest Ohio. I don’t find fault with the Christmas displays, except for the fact that there were no displays touting the Winter SolsticeHanukkah, or Kwanzaa. I suspect the area’s whiteness and lack of religious diversity has a lot to do with why these “other” holiday themes were not represented. (And if any of the people behind the Christian Light Drive-Thru stumble upon this post, I would love to provide and pay for a Winter Solstice display next year.)

The Drive-Thru cost us $5 and an hour of our time. While it is not likely we will make a return visit, I certainly understand its appeal — a bright shining display touting the beliefs most locals hold dear. I know we are generations away from, if ever, locals seeing and understanding that both the Jesus and Santa on display at the Christmas Light Drive-Thru are myths. As long as the Jesus myth prevails, so will displays touting the rightness of rural, white, conservative Christianity.

About Bruce Gerencser

Bruce Gerencser, 60, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 39 years. He and his wife have six grown children and eleven grandchildren. Bruce pastored Evangelical churches for twenty-five years in Ohio, Texas, and Michigan. Bruce left the ministry in 2005, and in 2008 he left Christianity. Bruce is now a humanist and an atheist. For more information about Bruce, please read the About page.

Bruce is a local photography business owner, operating Defiance County Photo out of his home. If you live in Northwest Ohio and would like to hire Bruce, please email him.

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  1. Troy

    Lesson of the day, carry $2 bills. That way you’re not a cheapskate for only giving a buck, but you aren’t all in for an entire finskiro for something that isn’t worthy.

  2. Becky Wiren

    I enjoy Christmas lights and don’t mind the religious themes. But I prefer the pretty, gaudy and secular Christmas stuff. Time for Winter Solstice! 🙂

  3. Lynn123

    Thinking of the Winter Solstice vs. Christmas nativity scenes-I think of the solstice as a time of merriment that includes alcohol that breaks up the cold, dark winter-nothing wrong with that. But sometime in my childhood-ten yrs. old maybe-we visited one of my aunts who was married to an older guy from Germany. He had some kind of liquor for Christmas. I remember how shocked I was! I had never heard of such a thing being associated with Christmas. My Christmases revolved around the children’s program at church-memorizing your four or eight lines to say on stage. It was truly a shock to me that for some people, Christmas was a time to drink alcohol. lol

    1. ObstacleChick

      That’s so funny! In my house there was no alcohol either. My mom used to buy egg nog for Christmas but of course there was no alcohol in it.

      I absolutely LOVE Christmas lights. I am so sad when people take them down in January, when we are headed into the bleakest, coldest, darkest part of winter. Christmas lights make everything so festive. And I always remember the scene in “Driving Miss Daisy” where her daughter-in-law decorates their house in lights to the nines even though they are Jewish. I would probably do the same thing if I were Jewish because I love the festive decorations so much.

  4. Angiep

    My childhood memories of Christmas were just pure fun: presents, Santa Claus, Rudolph, Frosty the Snowman, family get-togethers, feasting, holiday music, lights…How sad that now it has become a political and sociological forum for people who need to make a statement. How selfish to steal the innocent charm of the holiday from the kids — at least the kids who have the bad luck to grow up in these households.


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