Horseshoe Trail becomes a Christmas tradition for many

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HUNTSVILLE, Ala. - To borrow a line from an old Andy Williams song, “It's the most wonderful time of the year.” And no one enjoys Christmas more than a family in southeast Huntsville. Their holiday gift just keeps growing and growing.

The story goes that this all began when 9-year-old John Higginbotham put two strings of lights on some bushes at his home in Birmingham. Sitting in the living room of his Huntsville home, Dr. John Higginbotham smiled and said, “Being a kid doesn’t require an age limit.”

For 25 years, the now retired orthopedic surgeon has decorated his home on Horseshoe Trail for Christmas. “I live in the Griswold neighborhood,” he said laughing.

He tries to add something new every year. “The new project this year was the fairy wheel,” he said proudly. While we were there, his chief elf Bob Hodges, who lives around the corner was troubleshooting a problem and making repairs.

The display just keeps growing and growing. “I have some extremely tolerant neighbors. In fact, my display extends into my neighbor's yards on both sides and across the street as well,” he said. “It’s just grown a little bit each year until it hit some sort of toxic level and it self-ignited.”

When I asked what his wife thinks about it, he smiled and said with a laugh, “She prefers not to think about it.” He added, “She’s extremely tolerant.”

Higginbotham is amazed that so many people come back year after year. “Young couples carrying their children and telling me that their parents brought them here when they were carried in their arms,” he said, “and I think that it has become that much of a tradition is really very humbling to me.”

A lot of people were disappointed when it was lights out for a couple of years. “Well, I was as disappointed as anybody that I couldn’t do it because it’s kind of a fun outlet, a creative outlet for me,” he said. He developed severe arthritis and had to have should replacement surgery. “I was able to get my arms up after two years,” he said. “So I resumed doing it.”

When asked if he ever thinks, I’m not going to do it this year, he smiled and said, “Yes, usually every year about this time.” But he’d miss the smile on the face of a child as they walk down his driveway peering into all of the little houses he has set up. “They can look in the windows,” Higginbotham said. “They can see the animated motion characters and it becomes a real fantasy world to them.”

His love of Christmas lights began as a child riding with his family around the neighborhood on Christmas Eve. “I can remember in the backseat of the old Kaiser Frazier pressing my nose to the sweaty window,” he said. “And looking out and saying to myself if I can ever afford to do this for other kids when I grow up, I`m going to do this because this is really fantastic and fun.”

It was a magical time for him. “That’s been a childhood promise I’ve kept to myself,” he added. It’s a promise that paid off when he watched three generations standing to look at the holiday train engine he’d built from scratch. “And as I looked at their eyes, I could see that there were three kids standing there,” he said choking up a little. “And that really got to me.”

What Dr. Higginbotham and his family do for the holiday is truly a gift to the city and families from around the Tennessee Valley who come by to visit. If you haven’t made it out to Horseshoe Trail yet, you have a little time left to enjoy the sights and sounds. The lights will be on until midnight New Year’s Eve.

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