Mr. Christmas

Kenneth “Clay” Clemmons as Santa waves to passing motorists in front of his elaborately decorated home in Berea.

You can’t miss the Clemmons’ house in December. Before you even turn onto Oak Street in Berea, the barrage of multicolored lights synchronized to a playlist of Christmas carols can be heard and seen from a block away.

The display is so eye-catching it even slows down lead-foot motorists.

“We were sitting here one night and a guy was speeding down our street — going like 10 miles over the speed limit — and we watched him race by. Then, he slammed on the brakes and slowly came back and rolled down the window and shouted, ‘Santa!’ It was hilarious,” Brooke Clemmons said of the effect her family’s home has on passersby.

In addition to the more than 14,500 synchronized lights and a dozen inflatables, Santa was also out in the Clemmons’ front yard greeting vistors nearly every weekend in December.

Santa, who is Kenneth “Clay” Clemmons most days, said it took nearly 80 hours this autumn to construct the winter wonderland in his front yard.

This year, he got a head start on the decorating thanks to the ongoing coronavirus pandemic.

Clay tested positive for COVID-19 in early October and had to quarantine for two weeks.

Asymptomatic, he decided to make the most of that time by spreading Christmas cheer a little early.

“I would usually decorate the last weekend of October. As soon as we were done trick-or-treating, I would start pulling Christmas decorations down. I’ve always done it early, because it takes a long time. This year, though, I put it up earlier than expected,” Clay explained.

This Christmas display took nearly 80 hours to put up, he added.

Most years, he already has his plans for the Christmas display sketched out in February and March in what he called a “Kevin McCallister - ‘Home Alone’ sort of way.”

This year, with COVID-19 on his mind perhaps, Clay decided to make his display more interactive. He constructed handmade archways of lights, a light tunnel and a walkway for neighbors and visitors to walk through the displays and take pictures. Clay even strung lights from a large oak tree and put an inflatable in front for a ‘selfie’ spot for families.

Walking through the display, which is controlled through an app on Clay’s phone and powered by a custom-made gingerbread house, visitors are greeted by Santa on a projector screen, a Christmas sloth, Grogu from ‘The Mandolorian’ and numerous other inflatables and lighted displays. The winter wonderland scene is set before the backdrop of the Clemmons’ home which is illuminated from roof to foundation in strands of blinking lights.

With some extra time this year to decorate, Clay even asked his next door neighbor, Elaine Arwin, if he could decorate her home with the synchronized lights — adding more square footage to his display.

“She was delighted. I thought she would think we were crazy, but she was happy to have Clay decorate her house,” Stephanie Clemmons, Clay’s wife, said.

On weekends, Santa greeted children with candy canes and posed for pictures.

Mindful of coronavirus precautions, Clay made sure to wear a mask underneath Santa’s long, white beard and don gloves during the socially- distanced interactions.

“I’ve been Santa for about three years now, but this year, we thought it was more important because a lot of families either did not want to travel to crowded malls to get a picture with Santa or did not want to mess with long lines and plexiglass for a holiday photo,” Clay explained.

Stephanie said the family has gotten lots of Facebook messages this year thanking them for their efforts.

“For a lot of families, this was where they went to see Christmas lights and Santa. It’s been a hard year and we knew it would bring a lot of joy to our community,” she said.

Brooke, Clay and Stephanie’s daughter, said many kids throughout the month gave Santa cookies, handmade cards, Christmas lists and small presents while they were visiting their home.

“It’s brought so many kids so much happiness,” she said. “It’s been great. They are always so excited to see the lights and see Santa.”

Clay also made sure to keep the display as inclusive as possible. At scheduled times each night, the Clemmons would stop the music and keep the lights static so children with seizure disorders or other sensory complications could enjoy the lights or music and visit with Santa.

“My husband is such a great guy. He really wants everyone to be able to enjoy the lights. We have had people knock on the door as soon as he shut it off and ask if he could turn the lights and music back on because it is the only way they could get their child to go to sleep. And he does it gladly. He goes the extra mile all the time for the kids. He’s Mr. Christmas,” Stephanie said.

The family has also paid the Christmas cheer forward to other families this holiday season.

The Clemmons asked visitors to donate canned goods and food when they visited the light display and delivered multiple boxes of food to the Berea Food Bank throughout the month.

For Clay and Stephanie, the decision to become their neighborhood’s Griswolds was an easy one.

They did it for their children as a way to ease a family move from Lexington to Berea.

“I hated it,” Brooke said of the move when she was in third grade. “It was a culture shock. We were driving through downtown Berea when we were moving, and I was like, ‘This is it.’” To make matters worse, the Christmas-loving Clemmons family noticed none of their neighbors decorated for the holidays.

“When we moved here it was dark at Christmas. No one decorated,” Stephanie explained. “So we decided to go big as a way for the family to have something to do together and the kids to have something to look forward to.”

Stephanie’s father, Rick Fields, was happy to oblige.

“I call him Clay’s light dealer,” she said with a laugh.

Every year, Fields combs through post-Christmas clearance items and stocks up on new decorations, lights and equipment for his daughter’s family.

“It started off with a few decorations and lights here and there, then it just grew and grew,” Stephanie said of the Clemmons’ impressive holiday display.

Not realizing her family’s new holiday tradition could be seen on clear nights from her new school at Berea Community, Brooke wasn’t pleased at first.

“I was embarrassed when I was younger. One year, we had an inflatable on the roof and you could see it from the school parking lot. After basketball practice one night, one of my friends pointed it out and asked whose house it was,” she recalled with a laugh.

However, after years of seeing the joy her family’s light displays brought to children in the area, Brooke said she softened.

“I brag about it now in Zoom meetings. My house is the Christmas house. I ask people all the time to stop by. My friends always want to help and they are so excited when we start decorating. I love it when my teachers come by and bring their kids to see it,” Brooke said.

Over the years, Brooke has helped her father hang lights and paint the displays. She said it has been a great bonding experience and she loves to delight her younger siblings every year with new ideas.

It is a tradition she said she will continue.

“I will definitely carry it on for my kids. I want to spread that joy around. My husband will probably think I’m crazy, but it’s part of my childhood and I love it,” Brooke said.

Over the years, the Clemmons have also inspired their neighbors.

The previously dark neighborhood, now is a street filled with colorful lights and inflatables.

“Our neighbor across the street told us that we couldn’t be the only ones having fun,” Stephanie said with a laugh. “I guess the Christmas spirit is spreading.”

For Clay, that’s what the holiday is all about.

“I like to see the kids’ faces and people enjoying it. I’ve always loved Christmas. At first, I did it for just my kids, now I do it for everyone,” Clay said.

 

 

 

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