Lights, cocoa, Santa: Grass Valley resident creates Christmas wonderland on South Auburn Street | TheUnion.com

Lights, cocoa, Santa: Grass Valley resident creates Christmas wonderland on South Auburn Street

Year by year, the Christmas display in front of the unassuming house tucked back from South Auburn Street at the corner of Badger Lane seems to get more elaborate.

This year, the expansion grew exponentially, complete with a walk-through extravaganza in the field in front of Charlie Williams' home, visits with Santa (pictures free of charge) and hot chocolate for chilled visitors.

Williams said he was inspired by childhood memories of helping his father, Danny, decorate their Cherry Lane home and yard for the holidays.

When Williams moved into the house at 632 South Auburn St. six years ago, he began putting Christmas decorations up — initially just in the front yard. Many of the older decorations had been handed down by his dad, and inherited from his grandmother.

When Nevada County's most famous Christmas tradition, Eddie the Elf, hung up his hat for good a few years ago, Williams decided to take up the mantle.

"I wanted to give something back to the community, for the kids to have," he said. "It's a big thing for me, to continue on with a family tradition."

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Bringing all this Christmas cheer doesn't come easy — or cheap. Williams estimated that his PG&E bill, which normally will run a little over $200 for the month, rockets north of $500.

"Yes, it does get pricey," he admitted. But, he said, it's "absolutely" worth it.

"It's the kids' faces," Williams said, simply. "It's a good feeling."

And people help out with donations to help defray the cost, he said, adding, "It's very much appreciated."

Set-up takes weeks

Williams starts testing lights the second week of November, working hard to beat the rain and cold.

"It takes me four days to get everything up and done, wired and checked," including hooking up speakers so that Christmas music plays in the field, he said. By Thanksgiving, "everything is up and lit and going — it's ready to rock."

"I added more this year, I went out about 7 or 8 feet further, with 10 more figures," Williams said.

Adding Santa was a last-minute decision, he said, adding, "It clicked one night and I ran with it."

Williams' wife, Stephanie, and mother, Sheilla Ramus, help out, along with fellow "Santa" Keith Earnest — who promised he would grow his beard all next year and let her dye it white, Ramus said.

Williams posted on local Facebook groups to let people know when they can visit with Santa, get free cocoa and a photo — three weekends in a row, ending on Dec. 22.

"Lights are up … come look, bring your little ones," he wrote on Nevada County Peeps on Nov. 21. "Happy holidays from the Williams family."

The lights, on a timer, go on at 5 p.m. and off at 9 p.m., Williams said, adding that he throws open the gate to let visitors meander up the path.

The family has counted up to 80 visitors per night, with some families staying for 30 minutes or longer.

Today is the last day for the lights, Williams said, but, he promised, "We'll do it again next year."

"I already have new ideas," he said. "I'll have a better layout next year. We will re-route and improve a few things and I'm going to hook it up to a generator. … We'll have a better set-up for Santa."

"And cookies," chimed in Ramus.

Contact reporter Liz Kellar at 530-477-4236 or by email at lizk@theunion.com.