‘Every child deserves a good Christmas’: Leesburg family light show turns into 28-year tradition

‘Every child deserves a good Christmas’: Albany family light show turns into 28-year tradition
Published: Nov. 26, 2022 at 4:42 PM EST|Updated: Nov. 26, 2022 at 5:05 PM EST
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LEESBURG, Ga. (WALB) - Holiday cheer is making its way across South Georgia. One Lee County family has jumped into an early Christmas with over a decades-long tradition.

The Clay Christmas light show in Leesburg turned into a 28-year tradition this year but there’s more to the early display of joy as it’s also giving back to the community.

The Clay Christmas experience started in 1994 in a small Albany apartment.
The Clay Christmas experience started in 1994 in a small Albany apartment.(WALB)

The wonderland of lights started out of a small Albany apartment in 1994. The owner John and Gina Clay began decorating their pine trees with lights but now decorate their whole front yard—all to spread Christmas joy at a time they said people need it the most.

“It’s not about what you do, it’s about the memories you make. It’s not about what you have, it’s about what you leave behind. So that’s just something to live by,” said John.

So how many lights does it take to bring this attraction to life?

“Oh my gosh, 1,000′s,” John recalled.

The Clay family spends all year round preparing for their Christmas showing. Over the years, John said he’s accumulated hundreds of decorations—some of them even hand-crafted and painted by the family.

The early Christmas experience welcomes over 100s of visitors each year.
The early Christmas experience welcomes over 100s of visitors each year.(WALB)

“It’s very aggravating, as anyone who puts up lights can tell you. It can be very expensive but it’s well worth it,” John said.

The light spectacular isn’t just about the plethora of lights. The Clays also offer all their guests free hot chocolate, free movie showings and a train ride for the little ones. John says he also collects donations for families in need around the holidays. Last year alone, he raised $3,000 for two families.

“We just love the community. We’ve helped several families every year for 28 years. As the money comes in, 100% of the donations that come in go out to needy families. Everything at this address is free,” John added.

John’s daughter, Ashlin Clay grew up watching her house gets transformed into a Christmas extravaganza.

“When I was younger, I went straight to Christmas. We were Christmas year long and that’s all I’ve ever known,” she said.

For her, giving back to the community means creating lasting experiences.

“Every family, every child deserves a good Christmas, and they deserve to wake up with the Christmas joy and the Christmas magic that we love. Kids who come up and there just so excited and it makes them love Christmas. You can really see the Christmas magic and joy on their faces, and it makes it so worth it,” she said.

And all of this stems from the dreams of a young boy with a bug imagination.

Clay Christmas is located on 238 Story Lane.
Clay Christmas is located on 238 Story Lane.(John Clay)

“When I was about 5 or 6 years old, I grew up in Atlanta, we would go out with my family to look at Christmas lights and I remember this one house in Forrest Park, Georgia that had a Santa Clause,” John recalled. “And all it would do is just stand in the window and wave, but as a five-year-old, I thought that was the most coolest, most unique thing in the world. I mean it was Santa’s house and now we’re the Santa’s house.”

With plans to keep expanding their Christmas paradise, John said he hopes to see more families impacted by the magic he creates every year.

“It’s growing from family to family. To see that love spread from us to them and throughout the community is just fabulous. It’s not really the Clay Christmas that’s doing the blessing. It’s the people that come visit our show. We couldn’t do what we do Without the people,” he said.

Clay Christmas will have its lights on every night from now until the first week of the new year. On Saturdays, anyone can visit 238 Story Lane in Leesburg from 6:30 p.m. to 9 p.m. The Clay family will also be accepting donations that will go to families in need this holiday season.

With so much going on in the world today, it’s a relief to be able to stop and listen to the work being done to make the world a better place.

Do you know someone or an organization doing great deeds throughout South Georgia? Send your suggestions to my email at Lenah.Allen@WALB.com.

Happy holidays!