For Spencer Barker, each holiday season is a chance to reflect and grow. That includes how to make the holidays more festive for the people of Licking County.
“People knew my dad around town as ‘Mr. Christmas,’ and people know me around town as Mr. Christmas with the courthouse, and the guy who brings Santa to Licking County each year,” said Barker.
He’s in charge of the annual holiday lighting at the Licking County Courthouse. The spectacle is in its 75th year and is the longest-running holiday exhibition for a courthouse in the state. For 37 of those years, a Barker has been president of the committee that plans and fundraises the seasonal lighting and holiday kickoff event with the arrival of Santa on Black Friday. Spencer took over in 2016 after his late father, Jay, ran the program for 29 years.
“This is a community tradition that my dad worked so hard to do each year. It just became part of what our family does for the community,” said Barker, whose mother, Beth, and wife, Caileigh, assist with the year-round effort to maintain and improve the show.
Since the event started in 1948, the number of lights and technology has continually expanded. Barker estimates that between the more than 200,000 light bulbs and electrical system upgrades, it would cost more than $3 million to start from scratch. The individual displays include holiday staples like wreaths, nutcrackers, and snowmen. Some of the more distinct items are Santa riding the Newark train – paying homage to the city’s roots as a rail hub – and the large multi-colored snowflakes attached on all four sides of the courthouse that were donated by Disneyland Paris.
“The courthouse is the center of the community and is the perfect area for holiday lights. You can drive around and enjoy it with your family that way. Or you can walk around Courthouse Square and get up close to interact with the lights and take photos,” said Barker.
Most of the time when he’s thinking about the holiday lights, Barker is focused on whether a bulb may be burned out or ways to add more displays to the courthouse lawn. The ongoing effort is to improve the experience to reach more people, including growing families like his. He and his wife are expecting their first child.
“It’s another way I can keep my father’s legacy going for the next generations because I want this to be around for at least another 75 years,” said Barker.