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Nativity spreads message

The weather may say its 90-plus degrees outside, but in Chunky, Mississippi it’s beginning to look a lot like Christmas.

University of Mississippi graduates Michael and Cathy May are in the midst of constructing the largest hand-painted nativity in Mississippi to add to their Christmas tree farm, Lazy Acres.

Michael, a native of Chunky, and Cathy, who grew up in Hero, Mississippi, graduated from Ole Miss in 1991. She is a mat instructor at East Central Community College, while he runs the family farm they purchased from his parents in 2000.

“When we purchased the farm it was a Christmas tree farm only,” May explained. “We have diversified the farm to include a pumpkin season, Easter egg hunt, weddings and now the light display.”

The Christmas light display at Lazy Acres began three years ago and has grown each year. More than 5,000 people visited the light display last year, according to May.

“After visiting light shows in seven states and planning it for four years, we finally added a Christmas light show to our farms attractions in 2014,” May said. “We felt a light show would be a great addition to our Christmas tree sales operation, which is what the farm was founded on in 1980.”

The farm, which is located 12 miles west of Meridian, opens Thanksgiving night with the Lazy Acres in Lights, which is open through Christmas night and closed on Christmas Eve, and includes a hayride, an indoor light show and Santa’s workshop complete with girls dressed as elves where kids can create an ornament, sand art or stuffed animal.

“Our staff and family work very long hours every day from the end of October to Thanksgiving night preparing for Lazy Acres in Lights,” May said. “While many light displays have more time to setup, we are extremely limited because we also have a pumpkin season on our farm.”

Installing the lights is a tedious process that requires patience and perseverance, according to May.

“For example, one tree in our 2015 display required over ten hours to wrap with 7,000 blue LED bulbs,” May said.

But during a trip to Branson, Missouri last Christmas, the Mays saw a huge nativity sitting up on a hill.

“We were in awe of its size and amazed by how beautiful it was,” May said. “My wife and I looked at each other and immediately we both said, ‘We have to do this!’”

They got to work and created Mary and Joseph, the first two pieces of the 16-piece display.

“Joseph, who is just under 11-feet tall in the kneeling position, towers over Mary and baby Jesus,” May said.

The tallest piece of the collection will be the wise men, which are nearly 14-feet tall.

“It’s one of the hardest things I’ve ever had to paint,” explained Cathy, an artist. “A few of the pieces I’ve been able to paint indoors but now I have to move outside to paint some of these larger pieces. And it’s hot!”

They anticipate having the nativity completed by the end of this month before putting it in storage until it is time to begin setting up the light display in November.

Their motivation for creating the large nativity is their faith and the desire to have the nativity serve as the grand finale for the hayride through the lights.

“Our hope is that every person who visits our farm will walk away knowing that the birth of Christ is the real reason we celebrate Christmas,” May said. “While candy canes, presents, and Santa are all part of Christmas, and play an important part in the celebration, we want people to remember that Jesus is the sole reason for the existence of this holiday.”