Eastern North Carolina has long been the proud host to one of the most cherished Christmas light attractions in the state, Meadow Lights. Located in Benson, NC, this annual display has been bringing in visitors around the holiday season for over 40 years, making it the oldest Christmas light experience in Eastern North Carolina.
“I remember when I was sixteen, the Daily Record came down and took pictures,” said Ronina Tart, manager of Meadow Lights. “But back then, people would just drive by and look. It was nothing to this extent.”
Meadow Lights began with the creative vision of Roy D. Johnson, a Benson local, who began decorating his yard each year with Christmas lights for the families who passed by to enjoy. With each passing year, Meadow Lights grew in both scale and allure, as Johnson introduced new features and light displays to captivate families and children alike.
“My parents just really enjoyed Christmas and enjoyed putting up the lights,” Tart reminisced. “It really all came from a love of Christmas.”
Today, the Meadow Lights have expanded to an impressive array of 8,000 plus bulbs for visitors to enjoy. Throughout the months of November and December, Meadow Lights operates multiple trains to take guests through the 10 acres of glowing Christmas light displays.
“My dad came to visit and took me and my children to Tweetsie Railroad. There was a stationary train there that we took pictures of my son on,” Tart remembered. “My dad looked at the picture and said I could build that.”
The original “train” that Roy Johnson built was made of a wood covering around a lawnmower, with multiple rows of seating trailing behind. The trains running today at Meadow Lights maintain a nod to their humble origins, featuring a similar construction that includes multiple rows of seating.
“He just started out riding them around in the parking lot for free,” Tart said. “Then the lines kept getting longer and longer, so that’s how the trains really got started.”
Alongside the light display, Meadow Lights features other attractions for guests to take part in. The Old Country Store is a candy and soda shop located in the parking lot with the lights. Its original purpose was to be a meeting place for Roy Johnson and his guests, but it also allowed them to grab some refreshments on their way to see the lights. The store now holds over 300 varieties of candies, some of which are even handmade.
“I had a lady come in the store one night, and she just thanked me for keeping Meadow Lights reasonable,” Tart said. “She said I can bring my children here and not feel like I’m breaking the bank.”
Other stop-worthy attractions at Meadow Lights include visits with Santa, a carousel ride, as well as a refreshment stand.
What initially began as a personal gesture to brighten the holiday spirits of Johnson’s community has since transformed into a tradition that continues to enchant generations of visitors.
“People tell me it’s become their family tradition,” said Tart. “It’s the thing they love to do at Christmas: to come see the Meadow Lights.”