“Mary Ann’s Lights” Still Shine
By Jennifer Gray
Two Mountain Brook families host a decade long Christmas tradition that would do Clark Griswold proud.
Meg Garrison Krawzek and her brother, Sims Garrison, grew up loving Christmas lights. Their family each year rents a large van along with Julie and Bill Meadows’ family and drive around town singing carols and looking at Christmas lights. “This is our forty-first year of the light tour,” Meg said “We cram five families into the van now that we are all adults and have our own children. No one misses. You come back in town for this.”
In 1999, Meg was home for Thanksgiving visiting her mother, Mary Ann Garrison, with her husband Craig, her fiancé at the time. Meg and Clark remember Mary Ann, who passed away last year, saying, “I’ve always wanted to do my house up like Clark Griswold.” Craig confessed he had always wanted to try that too. Mary Ann also had a six-month-old grandchild, Parker Garrison, that she thought would enjoy the lights.
So deciding to start their own Christmas light tradition that would rival Griswold’s (played by Chevy Chase in the 1989 movie Christmas Vacation), Mary Ann, Meg, Craig, Sims, and Sims’ wife, Alicia, set out to create the display at Mary Ann’s Virginia Road home. “We bought about 4,000 lights that first year,” Craig said. “Maybe one inflatable and the Nativity, but that was it.” They put lights on the bushes and the house. Mary Ann’s best friend, Anne Liles, and her son, Walton, helped with repairs or replacing bulbs because Meg and Craig were living in New York at the time.
The event grew and became an annual tradition. The display now boasts more than 40,000 lights along with all sorts of Christmas inflatables and yard decorations. Even though Mary Ann Garrison passed away as a result of lung cancer in November 2009, it continues to shine. When she died, Craig already had half of the display up and knowing that the end was near for her, turned on the lights the afternoon she passed away. The roof read “MAG” last year — Mary Ann’s initials.
“She loved being known as the Light Lady,” Meg said. “What she enjoyed the most was not the lights and junk, but when people would see her at the Pig and tell her how much they loved the lights and that their grandkids loved them. This would happen year round.”
In the early years of the lighting, the families decided to start putting the lights up on Thanksgiving Day and then have a lighting ceremony that Saturday. That first lighting ceremony was small — only 15 people. “It was no big deal. Just family and a few neighbors and friends,” Meg said.
As Mary Ann predicted, her grandson, Parker, loved the lights. “One of his first words was ‘light’,” his father, Sims Garrison, said.
Over the years, the display grew and the families got more organized and even more people got involved. “It got to where Mary Ann would start calling me in August to talk about what we were going to do for that year’s display,” Craig said. “It really was so much fun planning it with her.”
They even enlisted others to help. In addition to the Liles family who was already helping with maintenance, Alicia’s family began helping too. In 2009, they had 30 people helping to get the lights up.
They even began to give each other titles: Mary Ann became Purchasing manager, Craig the Creative Director, Walton Liles in charge of Quality Control, and Meg the runner — in charge of getting more extension cords, splitters and buying lunch for everyone helping. Sims was named the Roof Specialist.
The display on the roof is highly anticipated each year. Lights on the roof spell something different each year and it is a surprise as to what it will say. The families are big Auburn fans so in past years it has said “War Eagle,” or had tick marks for six wins in a row against Alabama. During the big drought, Sims wrote “rain” in lights. The year Reuben Studdard won American Idol “205,” and in December of 2001, “USA” in honor of 9/11.
The number of people attending the lighting ceremony has grown. “Santa, played by John Feagin, started joining us for the lighting ceremony in 2002.” They also send out printed invitations and email or call friends. People who come to the official lighting are asked to bring an unwrapped toy. The toys are contributed to the salvation army for Angel Tree. This year’s ceremony was Nov 28.
Everyone is welcome to view the lights through Christmas. This year the display has moved from Virginia Road to the Krawzek’s home on 214 Beech Street in Crestline. “I love family traditions,” Craig said. “This is a community tradition. We can’t let it end. We have to continue it. There are 16-year-olds who have never had Christmas without Mary Ann’s lights.”