As Andy Williams crooned “The Most Wonderful Time of the Year” in 1963 for the first time, he was singing about Frances McMahon.
Sure, he didn’t know her, but at that point, McMahon had begun working on an outdoor Christmas display at her home on Lake Murray Drive, a place she calls home to this day. Throughout the yard and on the roof are Christmas displays bright enough to cheer up the orneriest of Scrooges. And there are stories for each one.
“This is my time of the year,” she said. “I love to decorate for it.”
The labor of love begins at the beginning of November when tote bags of decorations are taken out of storage. Aside from some help from a grandson for her Santa, angel and Mary and Joseph light displays on the roof, McMahon assembles the display herself.
“I’m nearly 81 and I get griped out every year by the neighbors for getting on the house and putting some of the lights on,” she said.
Along the roof, McMahon is quick to point out the bells intermingled with the lights. Those bells were among the first items she bought 45 years ago from Gibsons that have stood the test of time. And there are always items to add. This year, she has added a blowup Santa Claus to join other Christmas characters in one area of her yard.
“My husband, Howard, bought a bigger Santa than the one I had,” she said. “He does the buying, and I do the putting up.”
Once completed, the display is something to behold and a traditional neighborhood favorite. As one neighbor walks by, McMahon advised her, “You better have plenty of film.” And while McMahon talks about the display, a car slows down to take a picture, which pleases her.
“I was drinking coffee and an 18-wheeler passed and parked,” she said. “They came back and pretty much took pictures for a while.
“It makes me proud. I’m a people person. I love people of all kinds and to see them stop and enjoy something I’ve done, yes, I do enjoy it.”
McMahon lists a Nativity scene along with angels on the roof as her favorites. And there are some homemade items that come to mind, including the poles and lights along the sidewalk made from PVC pipe that cost $8 each to make.
The lights come on two weeks before Christmas and stay on nights until New Year’s Day. The McMahons said they have a pilot friend who said he can see the display from the Arbuckle Mountains and they have had others put some money in their mailbox to help pay for the electricity used to light the display.
For McMahon, the display is a way to celebrate Christmas that was not available to her growing up in Tennessee during the Great Depression. She said there was no electricity, and to celebrate Christmas, strands of popcorn were strung up.
“It was in the 30’s and 40’s and my family didn’t have decorations,” she said, one of 18 children. “My mother and father always loved the lights and they once made the comment, ‘if this is beautiful what do you think heaven must look like?’
“I have enjoyed doing this in memory of my mother and dad.”