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Since 1971, Barbara Tippett has put on a Christmas light spectacular at her house on Fairlane Drive.

This year is the last she will do it on such a large scale because of a diagnosis of arthritis where the only solution is surgery which can result in paralysis, an option she will not seek.

What she plans to do for future years is display her manger scene in the front yard.

She will also continue to decorate her windows. Displayed inside are various Christmas characters, both animated and static, as well as toys played with by her sons when they were boys.

“This has been going on since the kids were little,” she said Thursday night as Roland Clary played the role of Santa for children and parents coming up to see the display. “There are so many memories with this.”

(Clary will be at the Tippett house again next Thursday from 6:30 p.m. to 8:30 p.m.)

The first time she and her late husband put on the display was when they returned to Roanoke Rapids from California where he had been stationed in the Navy.

Elaborate decorations were common in California, she said. They weren’t in Roanoke Rapids, although her parents decorated their house when she was a child.

The Tippetts began buying five to six pieces each year and it would eventually turn into a part of the city’s holiday lore.

A tree in the yard which was eventually upended by a hurricane had 20,000 lights on it.

And while not as large as it has been in years past, Tippett estimates there are at least 20,000 lights in her current display.

The display comes out of a love for children and the holiday. “I love Christmas. What really gave me joy was watching the kids, hearing them laugh and seeing something they watched on TV. We always got four or five things that appealed to kids.”

During past seasons of light at her house, she saw her power bill go up by $200. “Since changing to LED lights it cuts it about in half.”

One of the features in the display is a cross which was once on top of the house. It is now front and center in the yard, a cross her husband made. “It’s really about the true meaning of Christmas,” she said.

As Tippett discussed her display, Clary, a 29-year veteran of playing Santa, greeted parents and children and waved to passersby.

Early in the evening he had already done about six photos with children who came up with their parents.

As a child, he said, “I used to run from Santa. What changed me I have no idea.”

It has become a staple in his life during Christmas, stepping into the suit for churches, parades and other functions. There are families who entrust him with keys to their house where he places the gifts, drinks the milk, eats the cookies and quietly leaves.  

Thursday was the first time he donned the red suit at the Tippett house. “It’s nice,” he said, “It’s set up nice.”