It was a banner first night for the opening of the 2020 TMT Farms Christmas lights display and food drive, as visitors donated more than two tons of food.
The annual Bulloch County tradition is a month-long, nightly drive-through holiday experience that doubles as one of the largest food drives in the area. It opened Thanksgiving night and runs through Dec. 27.
More than 25 years ago, Roy Thompson, now Bulloch County’s Commission chairman, started decorating his farm on Old River Road North for Christmas. TMT Farms is named for his family – Thompson, his wife Deborah and his daughter Jennifer McCranie and her husband Jeff; and his son Tyler Thompson and his wife Chrisee.
Over the years, the ever-expanding holiday display attracts more and more visitors, after the idea for the lights display sprang from accepting donations of nonperishable foods from visitors to help restock local food pantries.
Today, TMT Farms is known statewide and beyond as one of the largest Christmas lights displays and food drives in the South. According to Roy Thompson, each year visitors come from miles away, even from neighboring states, to drive through the farm and see the acres of lights.
The lights are only part of the display. Each year the family adds more accessories.
“We have added 75 new inflatables this year,” Roy Thompson said Friday as he was leaving a local store, from which he was buying even more lights. But as people drive along the twisting sandy lanes, meandering past three family homes decked out for the holidays, they find themselves immersed in a massive outdoor museum.
Each family pulls out all the stops in decorating their homes. Chaser lights dance to Christmas music; animated and inflatable characters frolic amid the shrubs, and everything, even trees, are wrapped in colorful lights. There are antique cars and trucks, tractors and far equipment, church steeples, wagons, old fire trucks and even an authentic moonshine still.
Thompson built an entire replica Western town, with a saloon, livery stable, stores and a chapel. Then, he captured Bulloch County history with replicas of past landmarks like the recreation department’s Pavilion, which was a popular summer hang-out; Snooky’s Restaurant and Henry’s clothing store.
There are grain bins and other outbuildings from area farms; the old agricultural barn from Portal High School, moved and restored; and way too much more to list, all covered in sparkling lights.
“It takes months to put it up and then to take it down,” Thompson said.
The endeavor is a year-round task, “but it is well worth it to see the good it does and for people to enjoy it.”
The fact that the opening Thanksgiving night was so large is indicative of how much people not only care about others, but “have the need to get out and do something fun” after a year of COVID restrictions and heavy political atmosphere, he said.
Friday, they did not have a count of cars that appeared on opening night, but the 19 barrels of donated food weighed over 4,000 pounds, Thompson said.
Admittance to the TMT Christmas lights display is free. A donation is not required, but welcome and appreciated. Donations of nonperishable foods (canned meats, dry pasta, rice, cereal, canned fruits and vegetables, peanut butter); pet food, toys or cash help restock food banks and animal shelters, and enable families in need to help Santa leave toys under the tree for their children.
Thompson reminds visitors not to leave their vehicles while touring the farm. In the past, people were able to walk around, but between COVID-19 concerns and liability issues, the event is drive-through only.
The display opens each night at dark and closes when lights go off between midnight and 1 a.m., he said. On opening night Thursday, “cars were lined up down the road waiting on us.”
TMT Farms is located at 16710 Old River Road North, Statesboro, Ga. 30461.