Preparations for Christmas begin early in the Town of Mocksville. Long before Halloween, Public Works employees began checking and repairing the thousands of feet of lights that line each downtown business to ensure that they will be ready to be turned on for the “Twas the Night Before” bed race on November 19th.
Between taking care of the lights on the buildings, water tower, trees in the planters, and oaks on the square and hanging the Christmas banners throughout the downtown area, the department of eleven spends hundreds of hours preparing for the holiday season — all while keeping up with their regular responsibilities.
“We love Christmas, but it sure is a lot of work,” admits Director Brian Moore with a smile. “It’s not just a couple of guys doing the work; we all chip in. Some days we may have multiple guys working as many as eight hours on lights. Someone is up in the bucket truck, others are using ladders, and someone else is handling the electrical work. Everyone has their niche, and we try to capitalize on that whenever possible.”
In addition to decorating, the crew also sets up and tears down the bleachers, barricades, and cones for the bed race and Christmas parade. Mocksville’s Parks and Grounds Department takes care of the trash.
Community Development Director Tami Langdon considers them the unsung heroes of Christmas. “They do everything for Christmas for the town. It’s amazing all that they do that people just don’t realize.”
Resembling a Hallmark Christmas movie is a labor of love for the Town. In addition to the physical work, Langdon said residents are unaware of the financial commitment Mocksville makes to deck the streets for Christmas. It decorates North and South Main Street, East and West Depot Street, Salisbury Street, and much of Wilkesboro Street. She constantly receives requests to expand further, but it is simply too costly, and there aren’t enough hours in the day. This year, she spent $2,800 on replacement bulbs and spools of electrical wire for the buildings: the initial set of Christmas banners cost $3,000, and she is adding a few more each year. The lights for the small trees downtown would have cost $1,799 if not for a grant from Lowe’s of Mocksville, which covered the expense.
She is equally grateful to Lowe’s for their efforts to locate the needed lights. Although Langdon placed the order for 100 boxes of 450-count clear lights in late August, Lowe’s soon discovered they were unavailable due to continuing COVID-related supply chain shortages. Michael Byrd and his team spent two weeks tracking down enough lights to fulfill the order. “We are very fortunate. Other Main Street Communities have told me they won’t be able to get their lights until January or February.”
The Town used to hire someone to take care of the Christmas lights but decided in 2011 that it would be more cost-effective for the Public Works Department to take over. For years, the department would work all day, go home for a few hours to rest, and then come back and hang lights and replace bulbs all night because it was the only time the school system’s bucket truck was available to borrow.
“We’d wear headlamps so that we could see what we were doing in the dark. A guy asked me one time how many crews we had because he had seen us putting up the lights at night. I told him it was still us. It’s become a running joke around here that 2nd shift is coming in to take care of stuff,” said Moore with a laugh.
After ten years with the department, he has plenty of other Christmas-related memories to share. For instance, the Mocksville Fire Department used to help put the lights on the legs of the water tower. “They would hang lights as they rappelled down the side of the tower and use it as a training exercise,” he said. “Mike West (former director) came up with the idea of replacing the lights with the shooting stars, and it has worked out great.”
He also recounts how the Town had to rent a large bucket on a Sunday morning to hang the lights on the large oaks on the square, which took about half a day. “We would lay out those long strands of lights in the shop to check them and then take them to the square to be hung up. It’s taken a lot off of our plates not to have to decorate the big trees anymore.”
Moore said that decorating has been streamlined over the years, and now, after much trial and error, he believes they finally have the process down to a science.
“It’s been a learning curve, but we’ve about got things figured out.” The lights stay on the buildings year-round, so the most significant challenge has been keeping them attached and lined up the way they want them. They tried sticky tabs, liquid nails, screws, and every type of adhesive imaginable before stumbling upon the magic bullet — everyday, run-of-the-mill hot glue.
“We were fixing something in the shop one day with a hot glue gun and decided to give it a try. What did we have to lose? We glued one of the sticky tabs we use with the lights to a brick and hung it up, and it held. The hot glue doesn’t hurt the buildings and works on any type of material.”
They quickly went to Lowe’s and purchased all of the glue guns and glue sticks in stock. So now the crew starts preparing in August by buying all of the glue sticks Lowe’s has and then asks them to order more. They also purchase new glue guns because they burn out an entire set every year.
The next challenge was keeping the glue guns hot. They tried cordless ones but quickly realized it was a hassle to recharge them continually. Since the bucket truck didn’t have electricity, the crew got creative and strapped drop cords to the bucket. When the Town purchased a new bucket truck last year, Moore made sure it had a built-in power inverter.
Even after the lights are turned on at the bed race, the job isn’t over. Moore said the Public Works Department continues to check and make repairs throughout the season to ensure the bulbs keep burning. Then, finally, the tree lights and Christmas banners come down, and the winter banners go up. “Every day is an adventure.”
Check out the Christmas lights in Historic Downtown Mocksville during the “Twas the Night Before” bed race on November 19th at 6 p.m. To stay up-to-date on Christmas events in the Town, visit www.mocksvillenc.org.