PILOT MOUNTAIN — Pilot Mountain Christmas opened its 49th season on Thanksgiving night to dry 50 degree weather. The parking lot filled up as families arrived for both first experiences and traditional visits, making this year the largest opening weekend to date.
Larry Charpiat and his wife, Rachel, have been setting up a holiday display since 1966. Making their start in Hollywood, Florida, the exhibit includes many Florida themes, such as palm trees, flamingos, and Disney characters.
Charpiat’s Christmas spirit began at a young age. He recalled visiting Cohen Brothers department store in Florida at Christmas as a child. “It filled an entire city block and had animated window displays all the way around it,” Charpiat said, explaining why his oldest items, the Disney and snow baby windows, are still his favorite.
Upon returning to Rachel’s childhood home in Pilot Mountain in 2004, the couple continued and expanded their holiday tradition. According to Charpiat, the display has grown from the one acre lot in Florida to filling five acres with over 750,000 lights. With new elements each year, this year’s additions include a polar bear section, guest book gazebo, and new LED lights for the synchronized tree.
“It’s awesome, just beautiful,” said Angie Cockman, of Kernersville, during their first visit to the lights. Having heard about the display from her father, Cockman and her family were not disappointed.
The set up allows people to park their car and walk through the display at their own pace. In addition to the spectacular lights and inflatables, visitors can experience interactive elements such as the snow machine, story telling Christmas tree, and photo cut-out boards. A hot cocoa booth provides free drinks for all visitors.
Live entertainment can be enjoyed weekly. Music will be provided by area churches and a kindergarten class. Dance Mix with Tracy, from Mount Airy Dance, will perform on Dec. 17. Santa will be on site every Friday and Saturday through Dec. 19.
“Our family helps every night,” said Charpiat, explaining that volunteers direct parking, serve cocoa, and greet the guests.
The display is free and open to the public, with donations accepted. Located at 4236 NC 268 Highway East in Pilot Mountain, the exhibit is open from 6 to 10 p.m. every night through Jan. 2. Details can be found at: pilotmountainchristmas.com and on the Pilot Mountain Christmas Facebook page.
The Charpiats are considering ending their run next year, after the display’s 50th anniversary. Charpiat explained that he had hoped a family member would take over, so the lights could continue. “Most people don’t realize the amount of work that goes into this,” he said, still uncertain about the display’s future.
Diane Blakemore may be reached at 336-368-2222 or on twitter @PilotReporter.