The People's Tribune

Clarksville’s Santa Land Is A Feast For The Eyes

Santa Claus himself would probably run out of adjectives to describe Jo Anne Smiley’s annual Clarksville Christmas display.

Imaginative, captivating, distinctive, breathtaking, voluminous. Even the Grinch might be left in awe.

There are big bulbs, huge bows, long ribbons, large candy canes, decorative animals, elaborate angels, sparkling beads and ornate tinsel.

There are antiques, such as the 125-year-old carolers who once adorned the holiday windows at Famous-Barr department store in downtown St. Louis. There are also new items, including the funky glow lights that change colors every few seconds.

And that’s not counting at least 60 trees, more than 300 Santas, 300 snowmen, 100 static characters and more than 150 moving characters.

In all, Smiley has bedecked the community room at Clarksville City Hall with close to 900 decorations for the annual exhibition called Santa Land, which begins Saturday, Dec. 1.

There is no admission charge. Hours are 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Dec. 1 and 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. Dec. 2. Times on weekdays are 10 to 4. Hours Dec. 8, 15 and 22 are 10 to 2. Dec. 9 and 16, the display will be open from 1 to 4. City Hall is at 111 Howard Street just east of the Highway 79 four-way stop.

The Clarksville mayor, business woman and retired music educator jokes that she’s not sure why she goes to all the trouble, but when pressed quickly lights up like…well…a Christmas tree.

“When you see those sparking eyes and those smiles, it makes it all worth it,” she said. “The 80-year-olds are just as excited as the eight-year-olds.”

Smiley says her love of Christmas was “ingrained” from an early age. She grew up on a Southeast Missouri farm, and fondly recalls the holiday as a special time. Her collection began with family decorations and just kept growing “little by little” over the years. In 2000, Smiley and her husband, Wayne, moved to Clarksville.

“I recognized when we came here that there wasn’t anything for children at Christmas,” she said. “I felt that a town with the ambiance, the magnificence, the postcard-type of setting that Clarksville had, it just seemed natural there be something for children.”

The first year of Santa Land in 2005 featured one tree and one live Santa. Six local people attended. Last year, there were more than 900 visitors from several states – in a town with fewer than 450 residents.

The mayor does just about all of the work herself, making trip after trip to haul box after box down the 37 steps from the community room attic to the ground floor. It takes six weeks to set up and six weeks to tear down.

This year, civic leader Linda Blakey – who oversees weddings at The Apple Shed community center in Clarksville – is offering decorative advice. Smiley likes the input, even if she can’t exactly describe its benefits.

“We have a lot of the same kind of…something…that comes naturally or it doesn’t,” she laughed.

Smiley’s only regret is that she can no longer share advice about the display with Wayne, who died on Sept. 16, 2016. The couple had been married for 42 years.

But a measure of the season’s joy can be found in the heartfelt thanks and the Christmas remembrances that many who visit Santa Land share with Smiley.

“The ‘what you hear’ is pretty cool,” she said. “The appreciation is so wonderful, not just from children, but from adults, too.”

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