By Lora Scripps
Some might find it funny how a cutout of eight reindeer pulling Santa Claus and a sleigh full of presents could mean so much to the Limestone County community.
Yet, for almost 40 years the Christmas beacon that has sat above the front porch of the Greenhaw home on Jefferson Street in Athens, signaling Santa is on his way, has meant tradition to countless local children and families.
Jimmy Greenhaw started the tradition in the mid-70s. He bought the antique cutout during one of his travels to Indianapolis. The retired businessman, who once owned Greenhaw Furniture and Greenhaw Real Estate and Auction with his brother Herby, joked he bought the item during a time he would buy junk and then sell it as “fine antiques.”
“Instead of Early American, some called it Early Greenhaw,” he laughed.
His wife, the late Kitty Greenhaw, might have done a little persuading to get him to put Santa and his sleigh on the home they have lived in since 1974. “My wife enjoyed decorating for Christmas,” he said. “She got us doing most everything we did. I thought it looked nice and we’ve been putting it up ever since.”
Santa usually makes his appearance on Thanksgiving Day. “Most of the time, we put it up rain or shine,” Jimmy said. “We were a couple of days off this year because of the rain.”
Jimmy’s son Lanier, the owner of Dub’s Burgers, has been helping put it up for many of those years. His own sons help now too.
“I don’t remember the first time helping, but I’m sure it was soon after we moved into the house,” Lanier said. “Dad loves that Santa and reindeer.”
Lanier can remember some very cold and windy years. “But still, it was put up every Thanksgiving morning.”
This year, family friend Chris Paysinger helped in getting Santa in place. He was more than happy to oblige.
“Everyone has a favorite Christmas memory,” Paysinger said. “For many, it is Christmas morning. But for me that is anticlimactic. That is the end of the holiday season, the time to start the process of putting up new presents and taking down the tree, the time to get back into the normal swing of things.”
Paysinger said he prefers the build-up to Christmas — the anticipation of wonderful things to come.
“As a kid growing up in Elkmont, we would come to Athens to shop soon after Thanksgiving,” Paysinger said. “As we traveled down the darkness of Alabama 127, I would look to the west and wait on it as my brother and I sat in the backseat of the car, likely swapping punches.”
He doesn’t remember talking about it or even acknowledging it to anyone. “But I eagerly looked forward to passing the big old house on the corner of Jefferson and Hobbs,” he said. “There, perched on the top of the rambling front porch, was Santa, his sleigh and all the reindeer lit up and glowing a warm welcome. Most importantly, signaling the start of the Christmas season.”
Paysinger didn’t know Kitty or Jimmy Greenhaw then. Now, he lives across the street from Lanier and his family.
This year, Lanier asked Paysinger if he would like to help him and his boys put up the display.
“I bundled up and enjoyed every second of being a part of a wonderful Athens Christmas that has amazingly lasted 40 years.
“I can only hope children still pass, even in this age of digital and artificial entertainment, and see Santa perched high above Athens, signaling the start of Christmas,” Paysinger said. “I know I still do.”
Jimmy and Lanier agree with others in Limestone County when asked what the display means to the family. The answer, “Tradition.”
“It will always be remembered as one of the family traditions,” Lanier said. “Just like going to our grandparents’ house, opening presents … it’s part of our Thanksgiving/Christmas tradition.”