TMT Farms’ two-mile-long Christmas drive-thru display – life-size farm and town scenes, giant holiday inflatables and scores of trees covered with twinkling lights – opened for the 2021 season Thanksgiving night. It will now be open seven evenings a week, weather permitting, until Dec. 27. The lights come on at dark and turn off at midnight. It's all free to experience, but donations of nonperishable food items, new unwrapped toys or money are encouraged.
For the second year in row, the display, at 16710 Old River Road North, is operating drive-thru only. After offering the ever-expanding holiday wonderland to the public for 25 years with walk-through visits allowed, the host families made the drive-thru decision for pandemic and safety reasons and to curtail damage to the inflatables and grounds.
Nevertheless, 2020 brought the exhibit’s largest success yet in the quantity of nonperishable food items collected for charity. After the season closed, Roy Thompson, who with his wife Deborah and other family members has been growing the display since 1994, reported that 100,462 pounds of food in cans, cartons and bags had been donated, surpassing a previous record of 72,000 pounds set three years earlier.
Friday, he reported a great opening night for the 2021 season.
“We collected 16 barrels last night, totaling, I believe it was, 3,064 pounds of food, which means we’re off to a great start, and we had approximately 1,600 vehicles,” Thompson said. “I tell you, you’ll have to ride out here one night. It lights the sky.”
When last year’s season ended, he estimated that about 55,000 vehicles had passed through the display from Thanksgiving through the weekend after Christmas, including repeat visits. If the equivalent of Thursday’s 1,600 vehicles passed through each night this season with no weather cancellations, that would be almost 53,000 vehicles. But evenings later in the season, including Dec. 24 and 25, sometimes bring more visitors than the opening.
The food is distributed to people in need from Bulloch and surrounding counties though Christian Social Ministry, a Statesboro-based nonprofit that operates a food pantry and thrift store. The toys, distributed by a group of volunteers who operate out of Portal City Hall, go to children who might not otherwise receive gifts, Thompson said. The monetary donations are also used to help local families in need.
Roy and Deborah Thompson and their daughter Jennifer McCranie and her husband Jeff McCranie and son Tyler Thompson and his wife Chrissee Thompson and that couple’s daughters, Mylee and Harlow, are the families whose surnames give TMT Farms its initials. They set up the exhibits and string the lights with help from other volunteers. The work begins weeks, and even months, in advance.
Visitors looking for what’s new this year should take note of a raft, with Santa, packages and trees on board, in the middle of the pond they pass.
“We’ve got a new raft in the pond,” Thompson said. “We’ve got Christmas lights on trees around the pond, and you know, we’ve just added a lot more of everything.”
That includes about 18 additional decorated Christmas trees in a field near the entrance, as well as some new inflatables and other items near the McCranie and Thompson homesteads.
Different sets of volunteers are assigned to each night to help operate and maintain the display while it is open. This year, groups started signing up in May, and by two weeks before Thanksgiving there were so many volunteers that TMT Farms now has a waiting list of about 14 willing individuals with no nights yet assigned to them, Thompson reported, calling this “a great problem to have.”
Tourists see it too
Some of the TMT holiday wonderland’s most enthusiastic supporters are families from Bulloch and neighboring counties who come back year after year, as can be seen in comments on its current Facebook page, “TMT Farm Christmas Lights Drive-Thru.”
But the seasonal attraction has also become popular with visitors to the Statesboro area from farther away, said Becky Sanders, executive director of Visit Statesboro, also known as the Statesboro Convention & Visitors Bureau.
“Absolutely,” Sanders said. “We don’t have concrete numbers, but we do promote it statewide through Explore Georgia, and we know that we do have people who either come into Statesboro just for this or they’re visiting family and they put it on their to-do list for while they’re here.”
ExploreGeorgia.org is a website maintained by the Georgia Department of Economic Development with links to regional tourism organizations. The TMT Christmas Lights Drive-Thru is listed on the VisitStatesboro.org events calendar, and Sanders said staff members regularly tell people about it when then call or visit the Visitors Center at 222 South Main St.
“We do get a lot of people stopping in the entire month of December, and that’s always one of the top things we tell them they should do while they’re here visiting,” she said.
How to get there
The site is about 15 miles from Statesboro, and here are some directions:
Option 1: Travel north out Lakeview Road approximately 9.5 miles, turn left onto Old River Road North. Travel 4.3 miles and look for the lights on the right.
Option 2: Travel west out U.S. Highway 80/U.S. 25, continuing on U.S. Highway 25 when the highways separate. About 10.9 miles out, turn right onto Rocky Ford Road. Go approximately five miles to second paved crossroads and turn right. Travel 1 mile and look for lights on the left.
To hear the sounds of the exhibit, tune to 88.1 FM upon arrival.