South Charlotte’s Santa

Santa arrives at Sherwood Forest Drive on Friday night; One of Charlotte’s largest residential light displays opens until Jan. 1

by Frank DeLoache

No matter how warm it was outside Tuesday, Dec. 6, in south Charlotte, one couldn’t help but feel like Christmas had arrived at Jim and Sharon Miller’s Sherwood Forest Drive home. The family puts up thousands of lights each year, and starting Friday, Santa himself will be on hand to greet children as they come by. (Mike Parks/SCW photo)

Ride by Jim Miller’s house at 7323 Sherwood Forest Drive, and you might think he grew up in a family that went wild with decorations every Christmas.

You’d be wrong. Growing up in California, Miller’s family decorated like other families in the neighborhood – with a modest display of lights and maybe a reindeer or Santa figure on the porch or in the yard.

Actually, Miller, now 53, said his neighbors and thousands of children who drive by the home he shares with his wife, Sharon, each year at Christmas time can thank their son, Nicholas.

The Millers moved to their home, a short distance off Colony Road, 13 years ago. When that first Christmas in their new home rolled around, “a gentleman down the street put up a nice display of Christmas lights, and my son, who was 9 or 10 at the time, said, ‘Dad, we got to beat him.’ ”

Not wanting to disappoint his son, Miller put together his first big display. Then, with support from Nicholas and his two daughters, Natalie and Chelsea, he kept adding more lights each year.

“Then, one Christmas Eve, Sharon and Natalie passed out two boxes of candy canes. The following year, I donned a Santa suit, and I stood out on the street and handed out the candy canes,” Miller recalled recently. “I did it more to embarrass my son, but when I saw the look on that first child’s face, I was hooked.”

So, apparently, were the children and families of south Charlotte.

During last year’s Christmas, Santa handed out almost 10,000 candy canes to bug-eyed, adoring children. This year, the Millers have purchased more than 10,000 candy canes and expect to hand out every one of them as families drive by the Millers’ driveway to say hello to Santa.

Santa arrives at the Miller home Friday night, Dec. 9, and he will hand out candy canes from 6 to 9 p.m. every weekday night and 6 to 10 or 11 p.m. every Saturday and Sunday through Chrismas Eve.

Then, of course, Santa has other obligations.

Although the children love seeing the old guy, the reason Santa hangs out at the Millers all that time has to be the unbelievable light display. Pink Floyd would be jealous.

Hundreds, if not thousands, of people have asked Miller just how many lights he puts out each year. “I tell everybody, if you’ve got the time, you’re welcome to count them,” Miller said. “At one point, early on, I counted 10,000. Now, I’m pretty sure there’s somewhere between 50,000 and 100,000.”

Even before Thanksgiving, Miller began setting out his annual light display. Lines of lights completely blanket his lawn, each light carefully pinned to the ground. Lines snake all over his house, up all the tree limbs and crisscross between trees. Of course, you’ll see all sorts of lighted Christmas figures and trees throughout the yard.

“Between all the building and behind the scenes work, I’d say it takes about 100 hours,” Miller said. He puts them all up himself. His daughters are all grown and Nicholas – the kid who started all this – lives near campus at the University of North Carolina at Charlotte.

Each year, Miller, a maintenance supervisor for the Mecklenburg County Park and Recreation Department, adds a new display to Santa’s extravaganza. Miller made a reporter promise not to give this year’s secret away, except that two elves are involved. Sharon Miller was helping get the elves prepped the other night.

Miller tested out his light show fully on Saturday, Dec. 3, and now the neighborhood is ready for Santa’s arrival Friday night. The Millers will keep the lights on through Jan. 1.

Many families who come by each year to see Santa offer a donation to defer the expenses of the decorations. But the Millers have steadfastly refused to accept any help. When people began leaving cash anyway, they decided to donate all gifts to St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital.

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