A Decades-Old Holiday Tradition Lights Up Callao
CALLAO - Many families take part in hanging Christmas lights and setting up decorations every winter. They drape multi-colored lights around trees, shrubs and parts of their houses with varying degrees of of difficulty. Some lights shine on cold nights with a steady, warm glow while others seem to dance on and off creating a memorable show for all to see. But very few people create displays comparable to the Latchford Christmas Lights in Callao, Missouri.
For the past 21 years, Bruce and Vicki Latchford have maintained a tradition of their own by setting up hundreds of wooden figures, doll-like characters that move with the assistance of small motors, and literally thousands upon thousands of lights in their multi-acred yard.
With so many pieces strewn across the yard, you would think the Latchford's have kept inventory. When asked how many lights and figures there are in total, Bruce kindly says, "I tell everybody, too many to count."
It's no coincidence the Latchford's started this tradition more than two decades ago - the same time they tied the knot. As Bruce and Vicki tell it, the tradition started with a single Nativity set. Since then, Santa, Mrs. Claus, elves, reindeer, snowmen, The Smurfs and Gargamel, Snow White and the seven dwarves, Wile E. Coyote and Road Runner have all joined the glowing display of baby Jesus alongside the Virgin Mary (which now sits in their neighbor's yard, an annexed space for the Latchfords).
With such an eccentric display, the word "crazy" has been tossed around, but as Bruce tells it, "You don't have to be crazy to do this, but it sure helps."
Bruce and Vicki start hanging lights and planting the displays in October of each year and begin inviting visitors on Thanksgiving night. They said with such a large, long-lasting event, they couldn't do it alone.
"We have four kids and they asked, ‘What can we get you and mom for Christmas?' And I told them, ‘Come up for two days and help me start getting stuff out of the building and putting it up,'" Bruce said.
"That's our Christmas," Vicki chimed in. "That's what we asked for!"
The planning begins well before October. During the time leading up to transforming their entire property, the Latchford's collect items for display, restore items in disrepair and even create a few of their own.
"We make stuff all summer long," Bruce said. "We cut out new pieces into plywood and try to add to this display every year."
The couple goes through this routine every year - including paying an undisclosed amount on their electric bill while also working their respective jobs - for nostalgic purposes and to give kids a show they'll never forget.
"We enjoyed it when we were kids ourselves," Vicki said.
"I remember what homes was decorated really pretty and things," Bruce said. "To me it always kind of stuck with you. But the expression on the little one's faces, especially when they see Mickey or Minnie, or when they come up and thank you personally."
Mickey, or "Vicki" Mouse, serves as a feature of the Latchford's Christmas show. While Bruce zips around on his golf cart helping handicapped individuals move throughout their yard, Vicky dons a Mickey Mouse helmet, complete with a pressed white shirt, a tuxedo jacket with a coattail and the iconic white gloves worn by the cartoon character. The couple says Mickey represents only a portion of their unique holiday display.
The Latchfords lost a member of their extended family this year, a person who was a friend to the couple and also helped create items to show-off to visitors. James "Jim" Monroe Lindsey passed away on December 10. He experienced the Latchford Christmas Lights one week prior. He would've been 92 in January.
"He loved making stuff," Bruce said. "We would make stuff together... He would say, ‘Bruce, bring your trailer I got some Christmas stuff made for you.'
Lindsey's final piece, a handmade ferris wheel large enough for dolls and teddy bears, sits in the Latchford's front yard, constantly revolving with flickering lights. An memorable piece by an unforgettable sitting front and center.
"He'll greatly be missed by Vicki and I," Bruce said.
Bruce and Vicky say one of their goals is to take their favorite childhood holiday moments and pay them forward
"If we can do that for the kids now, even if they might have bigger more expensive technology than we did, because we're a lot older, then we've made some memories," Vicki said.
The Latchfords begin their holiday light show around sundown every night and go until aroud 10 p.m. The display is free to the public and will continue until January 2.