GREEN COVE SPRINGS – Matthew Mitchell, a 19-year-old Fleming Island resident and student at Florida State University, has long been a fan of Christmas. Filled with holiday spirit year-round, he’s …
GREEN COVE SPRINGS – Matthew Mitchell, a 19-year-old Fleming Island resident and student at Florida State University, has long been a fan of Christmas. Filled with holiday spirit year-round, he’s been hanging thousands of Christmas lights around his family’s home since he was 14.
But this year, Mitchell wants to take the holiday cheer to the next level. He plans to hang more than one million lights, and the project got underway last Saturday, Sept. 16.
Walmart had its Halloween merchandise and candy on the shelves in August, but Mitchell’s project is more than three months in advance.
So why is Christmas coming so early in Clay County?
It’s all part of Mitchell’s plans to take the holiday to a level never seen.
“We want to make history in Northeast Florida,” he said. The job wasn’t possible to do alone. Over 20 volunteers arrived at Elrod Acres on Saturday at 8 a.m. They didn’t stop working until the end of the day.
Mitchell is the Founder of “A Country Christmas,” a one-of-a-kind event at Elrod Acres, 3679 Thunder Road on Dec. 8-9 and Dec. 15-16. Santa Claus and other favorite characters, a live nativity scene with camels, goats, and donkeys and more will be on display.
“This is the only event like this in Northeast Florida. We want to make sure that every guest who comes through here has the most magical experience possible. We have (no other option) than to be out here three months in advance,” Mitchell said.
Hanging the lights wasn’t the beginning of the work. More than 300 pallets have been collected. Vendor huts will be created out of the pallets, occupying the barn’s space, featuring food trucks, and taking on the theme of “a German Christmas market,” with lights and garland creating the authentic feel of the holiday magic.
“It’s going to be a whole new Christmas experience,” Mitchell said.
The sugar cane field will be cleared for spectator seating, with hay bales replacing traditional bleachers. They will be arranged in a square and topped off with Buffalo Plaid Christmas blankets so patrons can sit down, eat, and feel the holiday cheer surrounded by relatives and their closest friends in the community while watching music and entertainment on the stage. That will be behind and to the left of the ambitious arrangement.
Elrod’s “Cracker House” will offer jams, jellies and local honey, all while embodying rural Northeast Florida culture.
Mitchell hopes to have all of the lights up by November.
“It’s going to be like walking into a Hallmark movie,” he said.
The 20 friends and family helped last weekend. As the weather gets colder, they won’t stop working.
Chris Mason, a lift operator who cleared the way for Christmas lights to safely cross branches and limbs while sweltering in the September heat.
“Hard work pays dividends. We want to see (children’s) eyes light up,” he said. “We want to provide an experience that no family will ever forget,” Mitchell added.
For the team, it’s more than just about the lights; it brings the community together through holiday cheer.
“It’s really just our true passion for the community,” he said.
This isn’t the first time Mitchell has experimented with holiday cheer. During the pandemic in 2020, Mitchell and his family convinced many of his neighbors to hold a block party-style event. More than 500 from the community attended the event.
He tried again in 2022, showcasing the “Apopka Drive Night of Lights” to the community in Middleburg. Thousands attended the event with food trucks, a petting zoo with favorite Christmas drinks and snacks and appearances by characters like Santa Claus.
Mitchell hung 65,000-70,000 lights on his house alone.
“That was just to test the waters. This is the first official year of (A Country Christmas),” he said.