Christmas at the Elks National Home is a very special time of the year, not only for the residents who have made this their Home, but also for the devoted and dedicated staff and the approximately 100,000 visitors who will see the splendor of the Benevolent and Protective Order of Elks portrayed as a beaming, spirited rebirth of Charity and Brotherly Love.
The annual Christmas Lighting Ceremony is always a very special occasion and a major highlight of the year, not only for the residents and staff of the Home, but for the local community and many officials of the Order of Elks. The lights are on from 5:30 pm to 10:30 pm daily thru December 31st.
History of the Christmas Lights
The magnificent display of lights and scenery at the Elks National Home has grown from a few lights on the porch and a huge tree in the lobby to what you see today.
The first outdoor decoration to be added was a row of lights along the roof line and the sleigh and reindeer. This was in 1953. From that beginning, the displays and lighting just grew each year, attracting more and more people.
Most of the original displays were made at the Home by the maintenance supervisor at that time, George Buck; a resident of the Home, Tom Sidonia, who was a retired artist for the Barnum and Bailey Circus; and a local sign painter, D. H. Pinion. By 1955, large crowds were coming from Bedford and the surrounding areas to view the displays.
In 1965, there was a complete rearrangement and new concept. The religious scenes were constructed and the Christmas story placed in sequence just after the entrance. The community scenes, Santa, elves, carolers, etc. were placed near the building and on the lawn to the right after making the circle. In the following years, additional scenes were purchased from decorating companies and made by Elks Home employees. Of course, changes are made each season, adding new displays and/or changing the arrangement. Barry Schubert, one of the Home’s security guards who is also a talented artist, has repainted and remade many of the older displays and created new, original ones.
Erecting the lights and displays is a tremendous task, which is usually begun the first week of November. The Home’s maintenance crew, with the assistance of residents, are responsible for this and do a fine job each year. Innumerable man hours are required for the erection and dismantling of this project. There are approximately 50,000 light bulbs that adorn the trees, shrubs, grounds and buildings.
Well over 20,000 vehicles pass through the grounds each Christmas Season, and it is estimated over 100,000 people view the display. A new record was set in 2006when the official count of vehicles was 29,062.
The lights are turned on for the first time each year at an official ceremony in the main dining room, with the public invited and a prominent member of the Order of Elks to throw the master switch. This ceremony is on a Friday, one or two weeks before Christmas, and the lights burn from that time, 5:30 to 10:00 p.m. each evening, through New Year’s Eve.