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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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    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.

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    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! 🙂

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    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

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      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.

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    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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    Vince Sutter

    I find it interesting that you failed to appreciate that the entrance fee was a goodwill donation, as you complained about a show that welcomed you. The entrance fee has always been a goodwill donation (counter to typical city shows) so people from all backgrounds can enjoy the wonders of the season, both underprivileged and above average. The displays are a mix of local families, organizations, and churches which is exactly why you see such diversity in the lights/displays. Also everyone involved is a volunteer and freely gives their time to enrich other’s lives. If you dropped your cynicism and actually enjoyed the atmosphere, life just might be a little more enjoyable.

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      Bruce Gerencser

      Did you actually read my post? I wrote “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.” There’s no complaint here.

      My post is based on my personal observations and experiences. I went there with no agenda and no expectations. It should be noted that you do not challenge my description of the displays — the mix of American nationalism/exceptionalism with Conservative Christianity. In taking this approach, the Drive-Thru ignores the fact that not every person in Northwest Ohio is Christian. If inclusiveness is the goal, then having displays Kwanza, Hanukkah, and the Winter Solstice would certainly be appropriate.

      The people running the event are free to do what they want. I stand by my opinions expressed in the post. I hope you will at least consider how the displays touting Christian nationalism, militarism, and American exceptionalism have no place in an event that purportedly portrays the true “reason” for the season.

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        As Christians like Vince Sutter have been well-trained in the ways of Conservative Christianity, he chastises you for a feeling that you give him. This feeling has little to do with what you actually wrote but the fact that you author this blog. That is what he would actually speak of if his Christianity did not ‘teach’ rob him of his ability to simply speak his truth. Instead, he instructs you regarding something on his mind which has nothing to do with your post. The Faithful strike again! Let us prey!

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    dale M

    You know, most religions and their religious end of the year exhibitions R basically chimeras of other beliefs as well. I think Bruce is trying to point this out here. In Calgary, we leave our gaudy lights and decorations up through most of February. On Dec. 24th, some of us hold the traditional turkey dinner with all the trimmings and celebrate Isaac Newton’s birthday (Dec. 25th). Then those people celebrate Christmas with their Christian families. No harm done. On the 12th of Feb., another dinner to celebrate the birth of Charles Darwin. On the 21st of May, we celebrate Mary Anning day. One day, we might just encompass Jules Verne’s birthday. What I’m saying is, WHY restrict your celebrations so. Leave the lights up. Leave the decor up. Humanists celebrate the entire year. We’re always happy! happy! happy! However, let me warn you. That’s a lot of cooking! So. Don’t be sad. Be happy!

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    dale M

    Just an addendum here. Humanists have a lot more to celebrate than Christians do. And they don’t. And that’s sad.We have only ourselves to blame. I now leave my decor up all year round. People here understand. I do get a few Christians turning up. Nobody is offended. It gets around that we are not the poor pathetic creatures that the hard-core Evangelicals make us out to be. They seem to be the only ones who constantly turn down our invitations. Their choice. But they always ask me how our celebrations went. I always tell them …. just great !!!

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    @daleM Can you imagine if someone proposed that the US celebrate a Charles Darwin Day? The right-wing evangelical Christians would shit themselves! I love the idea.

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    @daleM Can you imagine if someone proposed a Charles Darwin Day in the US? The right-wing evangelical Christians would shit themselves! I like the idea.

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      dale M

      @bourbon&ginger : We’ve tried many times here but R told Darwin is not Canadian. It’s a cop-out. So, Jesus, the North African is secretly Canadian? U should not rely on politicians. Some U.S. politicians have entertained the idea and have endured a maelstrom of hate literature. There is another way. Just do it and eventually upgrade it to parades and slowly replace Santa in the Malls. It can be done. But we need to rely strictly upon ourselves. We need to be festive and include everyone! Just get it off the ground starting in your home first. Then later spread it out. Party! Party! Party! Like you’ve never partied before!

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    dale M

    The reference to replacing Santa in the Malls, is a float parade on Nature with Isaac Newton as the Grand Marshall and Emma and Charles Darwin as the rear admirals bringing up the sleigh pulled by antarctic cryolophosaur dinosaurs, with the “royal” couple dressed in blue and white from the South Pole. Much more fun! We haven’t had a Santa parade here for nearly 9 years now. There’s a niche that is aching to be filled and the start of something new to the end year festivities.

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