The co-host of HGTV's Home Town explains how he finds holiday magic every day, even in the summer.
- Posted on Oct 31, 2019
The big guy in the red suit and cap here in this photo?
That’s me, behind the wheel of my Chevy pickup on a scorching-hot August day (shades required, air conditioning on full blast). I’d just pulled out of the HGTV set last summer after a shoot. I couldn’t help myself. Christmas is part of who I am. I was raised on it.
Mama and Daddy stretched the Christmas season out for weeks. In my family, it started on Thanksgiving morning with the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade turned up loud on the TV. Then, on some random night soon after, my brothers and I were instructed to pile into the back seat of our Suburban to go see the wonderful Technicolor Christmas cheer deep on the back roads of Mississippi.
There were three of us boys at first, stretching our skinny necks out the window, sliding this way and that, depending on which side of the street the brightest houses (and bushes and broken-down Fords) sat. The best thing about country light displays is that if it’s immobile, it gets decked out in lights.
I was 10 years old when Mama told my brothers and me that we were going to have a new sibling. I heard her tell friends that this baby was a surprise. I wondered how that could be if we knew it was coming. Well, our baby brother arrived just as the holidays were beginning, and he was the most awesome gift. Could Christmas get any better?
Our parents sang in the church choir and took us along caroling. I was schooled in these songs long before I joined the choir of every church I grew up in. We moved to a new one every few years because Daddy was a Methodist minister. “Go Tell It on the Mountain,” “Silent Night,” “Away in a Manger,” “O Come, All Ye Faithful”—I love all of them. But a favorite? That’s like asking me to pick a favorite brother.
At Jones County Junior College, I listened to Christmas music when the summer heat became unbearable. When my roommates weren’t around, I’d put on a classic like “White Christmas.” Somehow I got up the nerve to admit my Christmas “thing” to the smart, beautiful design student I started dating in December 2004. One of our first dates was to Mason Park in Laurel, Mississippi, to see the light display. I was as happy as that kid in the back of our old Suburban, craning my neck out the window.
Erin and I went on to the University of Mississippi and eventually got married. We settled down in Laurel. She started her own design company. I was a student minister turned woodworker. Our dream was to help revitalize this small town, to renovate all the old buildings and homes, one by one. With HGTV, we’re making that happen.
While I’m proud of our work in our community, our best project together by a mile is our two-year-old, Helen. The only surprise there is that somehow I love her more each day, when loving her any more than I already do does not seem possible. My little girl has so much to look forward to.
For one thing, she can pretty much count on the fact that, even in August, one of the Home Alone movies is bound to be running on a cable TV station and her daddy won’t deprive her of it simply because the calendar suggests it’s off-season. With all of this holly jolly going on, you might imagine that I keep all of our Christmas decorations up year-round. That’s where we draw the line.
By the twelfth day of Christmas (on January 6), we’re packing the decorations away in the attic. It’s okay though, because now I have this suit. This glorious old-world Santa Claus suit that the HGTV folks gave me for the show’s holiday promo shoot last summer.
The deep red velvet coat is lined in satin and trimmed with gold embroidery and white faux fur. The brown boots have buckles. Pretty snazzy. No heat wave can cramp my style. Funny thing is, people tell me I remind them of the jolly old elf himself even when I’m not wearing the getup.
Can’t say I disagree, even if my beard’s not white—yet. He makes toys; I make furniture. According to Erin, none of this is a coincidence. So on that August afternoon after the HGTV shoot wrapped, Erin and I jumped into my truck to pick up Helen. I wanted to surprise her with a hearty “Ho! Ho! Ho!”
Though she had no idea who Santa Claus was, she recognized me right away, and it seemed like it was the most normal thing in the world to her that I was dressed in a velvet outfit in the middle of the summer. I guess you could say that she’s her father’s daughter. If I can pass on to her the joy Christmas brings me, my work will be done. Remember how I told you that Erin and I had our first date in December?
We always celebrate that week we fell in love by going back to that same light display in the park. Christmas only gets better as I get older. Little did I know at 10. Someone once asked me, “By the time actual Christmas rolls around, aren’t you tired of the carols, the movies, the good cheer?”
No, ma’am, not one bit. Same way I never get tired of spending time with my family or of going to church or of counting every surprise as a Christmas blessing.