A white carriage passed through the trees lit with 1,000 lights. The sound of horses’ hooves clopping on the pavement echoed through the bare branches, as the fourth annual Christmas at the Library event began its first complete week of festivities.
Events kicked off Dec. 1 with 1,140 visitors on opening night. That’s nearly 160 more people than last year’s opening.
“It was a beautiful night, a beautiful first start,” said Diane Wise, Library promotions manager.
The Library started the event to provide an affordable, family-friendly activity around the holiday. But it’s not just another festival or parade; every part of the event is Christ-centered – one of the main draws, visitors said.
“Christmas is too commercialized,” noted Connie Brannon of Lancaster, S.C.
Connie brought her daughter, Morgan, and her mother, Carol Blocker, to Christmas at the Library and shopped in Ruth’s Attic Bookstore before activities began. The trio wasn’t sure what to expect, but Morgan was happy knowing “that it wouldn’t be focused on Santa and presents.”
“We want to remind them what the real reason for Christmas is, which is the birth of Jesus Christ,” Wise said.
Carl and Mary George of Cartersville, Ga., visited for the first time with 42 other seniors from their church. Mary enjoyed walking through Billy Graham’s childhood home and reading excerpts from his sermons on the walls. She remembers seeing him at a Crusade in Atlanta in the ’90s.
“I used to hear him on ‘The Hour of Decision’ a long time ago,” Carl said, adding that he respects Billy Graham for “his faithfulness to God.”
Christmas is always a big deal on the Billy Graham campus because “Billy Graham’s whole life is built around proclaiming the good news that a Savior was born in the city of David,” said Wise.
On Monday, many visitors stood in quiet reverence as they watched a live nativity. A camel, cows, baby yaks, a donkey, sheep, goat and llama grazed on the other side of the wood fence. A guitarist played Christmas songs on a small stage across the lawn. A large wreath decorated with an oversized red bow lit up the silo, and some people strolled through the Memorial Prayer Garden, where Billy Graham’s late wife, Ruth Bell Graham, is buried.
Inside, visitors warmed up and took pictures by the 20-foot Christmas tree. Kids in strollers and elderly visitors with walkers passed through the lobby. Some passers-by read the Bible passages on the wooden rafters above.
“I am the beginning and the end,” one passage read. “I am the resurrection and the life,” read another.
Library staff began planning for Christmas back in July. It typically takes more than 400 seasonal volunteers.
The Library is open from 10:30 a.m. to 10 p.m. Monday through Saturday through Dec. 23. Christmas events begin at 5 p.m. Admission is free. Carriage rides are $7 for adults and $3 for children 12 and under. New this year, visitors can have pictures taken in the carriages. One print is $12, two prints are $20, and three prints are $27. Visitors can order more online.
The Library will be busy throughout December, said Wise, but weekends are the busiest, especially closer to Christmas. She suggests visitors plan what they want to do first and make arrangements accordingly.
They can also tour the Library to learn about Billy Graham’s ministry, browse Ruth’s Attic Bookstore and grab a bite to eat at the Dairy Bar. Children can gather on the heated patio for story time from 5 p.m. to 9:30 p.m. From noon to 2 p.m., they can pet the animals used in the live nativity.
The Library hosted the Teddy Bear Tea, a fun and festive way for kids to learn about Christ, on Dec. 3.
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“The Gospel shows people their wounds and bestows on them love. It shows them their bondage and supplies the hammer to knock away their chains. It shows them their nakedness and provides them the garments of purity. It shows them their poverty and pours into their lives the wealth of heaven. It shows them their sins and points them to the Savior.” – Billy Graham, “The Secret of Happiness”