Holiday light show returns to Macon campus in expanded form

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A stretch of Mercer University’s Macon campus will transform into a winter wonderland of twinkling lights in just a few short days. The annual Light More Homes display, benefiting Macon Area Habitat for Humanity, will be unveiled during a program at 5:30 p.m. Nov. 18 in Mercer Village, and this year’s show covers more ground and features double the lights.

This marks the 14th year for Light More Homes, which was a holiday tradition at Chick-fil-A on Tom Hill Sr. Boulevard for a dozen years before moving to Montpelier Avenue last year. While the 2020 display was limited to Mercer Village, the lights will now go all the way up Stadium Drive this year. The 170 oak trees along the road will be wrapped in spirals of 50,000 red and white lights to create “Candy Cane Lane.”

The show, which is hosted by Mercer and presented by Live at Lofts, will be visible from 6-10 p.m. nightly through mid-January. Since last year, the display has expanded from just 500 feet through Mercer Village to 3,500 feet in length, said Chuck Hammock, a partner at Macon engineering firm Andrews, Hammock and Powell Inc. and the visionary behind the Light More Homes project. 

In total, about 5 miles of new electric wiring and over a mile of communication cable are being installed this year for the Candy Cane Lane lights, which will also be synchronized to music. The goal is to continue to add on to the display each year. 

“We had a great event at Chick-fil-A, but we were landlocked there,” Hammock said. “Mercer was always interesting to me as a potential replacement venue because there’s such a bigger canvas to paint these lights across. There are all these opportunities all over campus. (Stadium Drive) was the next logical one in our mind. We are also in the heart of our core volunteer base that helps install the display, the awesome students of Mercer University.”

The decor in Mercer Village will include a canopy of 48,000 white icicle lights strung between buildings on 1.2 miles of stainless steel cable; a pedestrian arch tunnel with color-changing LED lights and strobe lights; a snow machine; a nativity scene; trees wrapped with multi-color, green and white lights; and lighted bells that “ring.”

Students have a critical hand in the light display. Expanding upon their efforts from last year, Mercer computer science faculty and students have designed and programmed two LED-light Christmas trees. A tree with 1,500 lights will be located in front of Francar’s Buffalo Wings in Mercer Village, and the 4,800-light OrthoGeorgia tree will run up the flagpole beside OrthoGeorgia Park at Claude Smith Field, said Dr. Bob Allen, professor and chair of the Computer Science Department. 

After a one-year absence, the annual Light More Homes student programming competition has returned. Twenty teams of students from Mercer and Bibb County public and private schools synchronized the lights to different holiday songs for the contest, which is sponsored by the Chick-fil-A stores on Tom Hill Sr. Boulevard and Bass Road in Macon.

Participants received training in the Light-O-Rama software by Mercer alumnus Matthew Dirkson — who won the 2017 programming contest as a participant and then led trainings as a Mercer student —  and had the chance to attend two virtual Q&A sessions, Dr. Allen said. 

Members of the Mercer women's lacrosse and softball teams help with the installation of the holiday light display in early November.
Members of the Mercer women’s lacrosse and softball teams help with the installation of the holiday light display in early November.

“This type of computer programming gives you this visual and audio feedback, so kids can make adjustments and automatically see and feel the effects of their coding, and that’s very powerful,” Dr. Allen said. “That immediate feedback is very rewarding and motivating, so the students get excited and engage more with the project.”

The programming contest winners will be announced during the event on Nov. 18. Chick-fil-A branch owner David Clark will award some of the prizes, and Assistant Vice President for Enrollment Management Dr. Kelly Holloway will present Mercer scholarships to the winning high school teams.

All song submissions will play at least through Nov. 21, and then winning songs and others will be in rotation for the remainder of the event, said Ivey Hall, executive director of Macon Area Habitat for Humanity. The music can be heard through speakers in Mercer Village or by car on FM radio station 92.7.

“They are programming the lights to music, so it truly is an incredible experience as you go through the lights,” Hall said. “Every strand of lights can be programmed separately, but then to see that come to life is such a tremendous opportunity for these students.”

Installing the Light More Homes display is a labor of love by many dedicated people, including the Mercer women’s lacrosse and softball teams, who help every year. Hammock said pilot Len Register and engineer Conn Fountain are longtime, key technical volunteers. Bucket trucks and personnel from James Menke’s Innovative Fiber Technology Company are critical, too. Other companies involved in the project include Allstate Electric, United Rentals, Robins Air Force Base’s 78th Logistics Readiness Squadron, an anonymous electrical firm and Andrews, Hammock and Powell Inc.

Light More Homes will play a vital role in helping Habitat for Humanity construct 10 new homes in the coming year. The nonprofit normally builds five each year but doubled its 2022 goal in response to increased need, Hall said. Donations can be made at maconhabitat.org/donate or through PayPal (go to “more,” select “donate to a cause” and type “Macon Area Habitat” in the search bar). 

“It’s a really fun way to get people engaged in the community and keep this tradition of having Christmas lights going,” Hall said. “But it’s got an even larger purpose. It’s a program that’s not only through the holiday season but continues throughout the year. … The money we raise through sponsorships and individual contributions all comes back to our mission, which is creating low-income home ownership opportunities.”

Other Light More Homes sponsors include Mike Hostilo Law Firm, Synovus, Margaritas, Jag’s Pizzeria, Sheridan Construction, BBTB, Spivey Pope Green LLC, Raffield Tire, Thompson Lift Truck, and Roland, Abbott and DeZoort Insurance LLC.

Installation work is done in Mercer Village in early November.

 

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Andrea is a digital content specialist at Mercer. She creates and maintains written and multimedia content for primary University web pages. She ensures a consistent, University “voice” throughout various forms of online communications platforms. She also plans and executes campaigns for the primary official Mercer University social media accounts.