An Axton family keeps a holiday tradition alive along the Virginia-North Carolina line.
AXTON – Last year, Michelle and Shianne Hall, co-owners of the Noel Acres light display in Axton, set out on a mission. They wanted to create a large-scale, bright, charming Christmas display for their small Henry County community.
“We chose to do a light display because there isn’t many around for the community to enjoy,” Shianne said.
What the two weren’t anticipating were hundreds of people finding out about—and then wanting to visit—their farm. But that’s a good thing.
“We are happy and overjoyed that people like our display and we didn’t think it would take off as quickly as it has,” Shianne said.
A Nearby Predecessor
The excitement around Noel Acres started during their first year, but then expounded this year when a popular 50-year Christmas light display in nearby Casville, North Carolina, announced that they would not open for the 2020 season, nor in the future.
Leon and Ann Paschal began their initial display in 1969 with only 100 lights surrounding a central nativity scene. Over the years, the display grew to a massive scale, containing not only lit trees and décor, but also several buildings with Christmas themes.
Two buildings contained large train sets, bustling with action both overhead and at children’s eye-level. Other structures contained Santa decorations, Peanuts characters and dolls. The snack area provided yummy winter treats, like cookies and cups of hot cocoa.
And every year, the manger scene still played a prominent roll.
Over five decades, the display became a family tradition for many along the Virginia-North Carolina line. Last year, the Paschals said goodbye to their faithful adventurers as they ventured through the display.
True to their word, the couple posted on the Paschals Christmas Lights Facebook page before the Christmas season began that they would no longer host the display.
A Fortuitous Opportunity
As expected, locals’ Facebook pages exploded, asking friends where the best light displays resided close by. Cue fortuitous timing and social media exposure, and Noel Acres became an overnight sensation.
Even larger than last year, Shianne noted that she and Michelle decorated with more lights this year. Putting up the display doesn’t happen in a few hours, or even a few days—not even a few weeks.
“We start two to three months in advance to start decorating,” Shianne said.
Total, the display takes visitors between 15 and 20 minutes to walk through. Due to the nature of the display, the trail is not suitable for vehicles.
There are several unique touches along the trail—inflatable decorations, a fence wrapped with festive lights and large, lit ornaments hanging from the trees. However, there is one extra special element that draws the co-owners’ attention each and every night.
“I think our favorite part of the display is the manger scene because Jesus is the reason for the season and we can spread a message to visitors through the scene,” Shianne said.
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Gearing up for the holiday season in September, the Halls posted guidelines on the Noel Acres Facebook page and reservation form related to COVID-19.
They asked that guests practice social distancing and wear masks while browsing through the display. In some circumstances, guests may experience a brief wait to enter the Axton display in order to follow social distancing requirements.
The Halls also noted that their holiday cabin would not open, as it did the year before—but people may peer through the windows. Also, even though Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, reported that Santa Claus can’t catch COVID-19, he will take a year off from visiting the light display. There are simply so many toys to make this year, and the elves need his help.
The family also asked that visitors not touch the Christmas decorations, further limiting the spread of germs.
Even with the precautions, the Halls looked forward to welcoming guests to their second annual display.
“We have always wanted to give something for the community to see and we know that in hard times such as COVID-19, it brings joy to many people to forget about life for a while and see the lights,” Shianne said.
A Free Experience
Hoping to spread holiday cheer rather than make a buck, the Halls offer their light display without any entrance fees. From parking to walking down the lit trail, it doesn’t cost families a dime. However, those who wish may give donations to keep the lights shining.
“We decided to do the display free of charge and only accept donations, as we believe giving is in the spirit of why we do this,” Shianne said.
Located at 175 Windy Acres Trail in Axton, Noel Acres requires advanced notice for visitors, due to parking restrictions.
“We are currently taking reservations for the 2020 Christmas season and if you visit our Facebook page, Noel Acres, we post a link with dates and times to make a reservation to come see the lights,” Shianne said.
Reservations may change due to weather conditions. Guests may check the Noel Acres Facebook page before venturing out for the evening.
Amie Knowles reports for The Dogwood. You can reach her at [email protected]