HUNTSVILLE, Ala. - The Christmas lights at one Huntsville home aren't burning as brightly this year. But they’re still bringing holiday joy to many. For more than 25 years, Dr. John Higginbotham’s home on Horseshoe Trail in southeast Huntsville was a Christmas fantasy land for three generations.
“I have some extremely tolerant neighbors,” he told us when we sat down with him in 2017, “In fact, my display extends into my neighbor’s yards on both sides and across the street as well.” Higg, as his friends and family called him, told us with a smile, “It's just grown a little bit each year until it hit some sort of toxic level and it self-ignited.”
His Christmas display had become a part of the holidays. That touched his heart. “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.”
But the bright glow of twinkling lights, family and friends dressed in costumes and little moving characters have been replaced. A sign in the front yard made and delivered by friends now greets people, thanking everyone for celebrating his Christmas magic all those years. “It became a full-time hobby for him after he retired,” his wife Mary told us. His daughter, Beth McGucken added, “It was a passion.”
Dr. Higginbotham died after surgery in March. Friends offered to help his family continue the tradition. “It was literally a year-round project and all kinds of electrical stuff and drawings and he and Bob Hodges worked all the time,” Beth said, “There's no way that we could possibly do it.” Higg called his neighbor Hodges, his chief elf.
It was Higg’s Christmas production. “He created a lot of this,” Mary said, “He knew what he wanted, and it was in his head and heart. There’s no way we could do it.” Beth added, “And we wouldn’t do it properly and he’d be scorning us.” Mary agreed as they both laughed.
His Christmas creations now live with other families, two in Huntsville and one in Hazel Green. “We gave it to them free just to share the Christmas spirit and magic with other people,” Mary said.
Many of us will miss stopping by their home. “He did it to share with others that Christmas magic that he felt as a child and as an adult,” Mary said. She turned to their daughter and said, “He was just full of it wasn’t he?” Beth laughed and said, “Yeah he was, one of a kind, a piece of work.”
We can all still hold onto the look of winter wonderment on the faces of our children as they walked around his driveway and yard. We’ll have those memories a lifetime. “As sad as it is and hard as it is when somebody you love is gone, their spirit is right there,” Mary said.
His Santa boots sit in the living room right below a Teddy Bear created out of one of his old flannel shirts by a family friend. Higg’s Christmas spirit will continue to be shared. “We’re really happy about that and he would be,” Mary said, "He would want it to go on and be used.” Beth smiled and added, “Yes, he would.”
And for those who knew him, something tells me he’d be pleased to know that he is still bringing holiday joy to the community that he so loved. “He would,” Mary said. “He’s sprinkled everywhere,” Beth said, “And I love that.”
Most of Dr. Higginbotham’s creations are at the home of Bob Zeek and his family. They live at 2403 Preston Ridge Drive in Huntsville. Nick Hall and his family also have a few pieces at their home at 4924 Cove Valley Drive in Huntsville. You can enjoy those now. John and Nona Reed at 288 Mitchell Moore Road in Hazel Green are doing a little work on the piece they got and plan to put it out next Christmas.
Mary Higginbotham and her family want to make sure the volunteers and neighbors who helped John with his Christmas display all these years, know how much they are loved and appreciated and for putting up with a steady stream of traffic in their neighborhood. They also want to thank the “Chief Elf” who worked countless hours over the years helping his close friend put up and take down the display. Bob Hodges also helped the Higginbotham family find homes for the Christmas decorations after Higg’s death.