It looks a lot like the North Pole at Jay Henley’s house.
Henley’s backyard in Mount Airy has been transformed into a Christmas village, with more than 8,000 Christmas lights, 65 animated characters and about 15 miniature buildings, including Santa Claus’s house.
Since 1992, Henley and his family have been creating “The Village of Henleyville” for the holidays. Now, 20 years later, what started out as a holiday display with one miniature building made by Henley has turned into an anticipated holiday tradition seen at its peak by about 15,000 people.
“It just kept growing,” Henley said of his village. “We have people that extensively travel to get here.”
The Village of Henleyville covers about a quarter of an acre and includes about 1,700 items, requiring about a half-mile of extension cords, Henley said. It takes about 20 minutes for visitors to walk through the village, at 13901 Mattie Haines Road. Tours are free.
Henley said that the display adds about $100 more to his monthly electric bill.
This year the village opened Dec. 4 and will run from 6:30 to 9 p.m. — weather permitting — until New Year’s Eve.
As of Friday, about 400 people had visited Henleyville. In the past, people have come from as far away as California and West Virginia to see it, Henley said.
Most of the miniature buildings were made by Henley, including Santa’s workshop, a gingerbread house and the village’s newest addition, The Island of Misfit Toys which uses Beanie Babies, stuffed toys that were popular in the 1990s. It takes about five months for Henley to make a new building, he said.
“Each year we try to add a new building,” Henley said. “It’s an interactive thing, there’s things that kids can crawl through and play in.”
The village also has a full-size version on Santa’s sleigh.
“It puts a lot of smiles on children’s and adult’s faces,” Mary Webber, a member of the Golden Gears Club of Frederick County, said of the village.
For the last five years, the club, which is dedicated to the historic preservation and use of classic cars, has hosted an evening at the Christmas village, where members pass out refreshments to visitors.
The club will be offering hot chocolate, cookies and coffee to visitors on Saturday.
In addition, Santa Claus and Mrs. Claus, played by Henley’s fiancee, Linda McElfresh, will make an appearance during the night to read “‘Twas the Night Before Christmas” to children at the village.
A 4-foot long Christmas stocking filled with treats also will be raffled off during the event in honor of the anniversary.
“There’s a lot of great fellowship at [the village],” Webber said. “It’s the perfect family outing.”
Although the village is celebrating its 20th anniversary in the town, Henley said that Henleyville was a concept that he first thought of when he was 7 years old while visiting department stores in Washington, D.C., during the holidays.
“My parents would take me down each year in the [1950s] to see the decorations in the store windows,” he said. “I guess I kind of fell in love with that stuff. ... I’m a 58-year-old kid.”
For more information about the village go to www.goldengears.org.