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Arts & Culture

Mullens Holiday Decorations Contest Cuts Through COVID Fears To Bring Holiday Cheer

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Charlene Cook
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Jerry and Anna Farley's home placed second in the Mullens Area Chamber of Commerce Residential Holiday decorating contest in 2020.

Communities across the world are getting creative to celebrate the holidays while addressing COVID concerns. In Wyoming County, West Virginia, an annual parade of lights was cancelled. Instead, Mullens Area Chamber of Commerce members encouraged residents and businesses to participate in a holiday decorations contest.

On the corners of most streets in Mullens, you’ll hear silver bells, well -- silver speakers -- playing Christmas music.

That’s also where you’ll find holiday displays from businesses for this year’s contest. The City of Mullens usually hosts the contest but this year, the Mullens Area Chamber hosted the contest. This year’s business winner was State Farm Insurance.

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Charlene Cook
State Farm Insurance placed first in the 2020 Mullens Area Chamber of Commerce Business Holiday Decorating Contest.

It’s a holiday tradition for many families in the region to venture to town and check out the lights.

Making Mullens Merry and Bright

John Morgan lives on one of the side streets in city limits.

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John Morgan
A dogwood tree decorated with Christmas lights on Church Street in Mullens, WV in December 2020.

“I just start going up the tree with the lights and then I go up and then I see a gap,” Morgan said, “and then I got to go buy more lights. I keep working my way all the way around the tree and then the globes, the ornaments just kind of come this year and that year.”

He’s just about finished putting up his display for 2020.

“I couldn't find any more lights,” Morgan said as he laughed. “Mullens is sold out.”

The community seems to have rallied behind another holiday tradition hosted by the chamber, the holiday decorating contest.

“I think everybody has had enough of the COVID-19 and being stuck in a house and wanting some Christmas spirit,” Morgan said. “You know, celebrating the birth of Jesus Christ is what it's all about. But being out and making things as pretty as you can in your neighborhood is part of the Christmas season.”

The vice president of the Mullens Area Chamber of Commerce, Cathy Huff, lives right next door to the Morgan’s.

“It seems like this year, everybody's just really excited about it,” Cathy said. “And Mullens is really, really decorated. I mean, you can drive around at night and the lights are absolutely beautiful. I'm so proud of everybody.”

But you won’t find the winner of this year’s residential contest in town.

A Luminous Love Story

Cleadus Earl Thomas lives just across the railroad tracks before you get to town. Most folks call him Earl.

“Well, I've got about a little over 12,000 lights up,” Thomas said. “I buy strands and usually there’s just 100 bulbs to string like 20 foot long. I just mostly count the strands that I put up. I put up over 115 strands so.”

Thomas is 83 years-old, and he’s been putting up holiday lights since he first built his house in 1997.

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Jessica Lilly
Cleadus Earl Thomas at his home December, 2020.

“My wife, she really liked Christmas,” he said. “ And so we basically I just put them up, for her, for the kids, grandkids. But it does take quite a bit of time.”

Until this year, he thought he wasn’t eligible to enter the Mullens decorating contest.

“Most of the time I think it was for the town,” Thomas said. “And then they said well, ‘you’re not in city limits,’ so they wouldn’t include you.”

This year, the contest was hosted by the Mullens Area Chamber of Commerce, which opened up the contest to folks outside of city limits.

Either way, Thomas’s display can’t be ignored. It’s gotten a reputation in the community and it should. In mid-December a ladder was leaned on the gutters on the front of Thomas’s house. He had just gotten down from checking the bulbs.

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Courtesy
Earl Thomas won the 2020 Mullens Area Chamber of Commerce Residential Holiday Lights Contest.

“I just got there at one time to try to fix that section that was out and you got to take the bulbs out and try to do one that burns. See if it burns and switch them in and out until you get the bad one.”

His wife passed away in 2013. But there’s no doubt she’d be proud to know that Thomas was finally recognized by the Mullens Area Chamber for his impressive holiday display. As for Earl, he says he’s just glad to know that someone sees the lights so his work isn’t in vain.

“It would just make it, maybe little bit of effort paid off,” Thomas said. “Well at least somebody’s looking at them.”

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Charlene Cook
Complete Bookkeeping Solutions placed second in the Mullens Area Chamber of Commerce Business Holiday Lights competition in Mullens in December 2020.

Corrected: December 22, 2020 at 5:50 PM EST
A previous version of this story stated that the Mullens Area Chamber of Commerce sponsors the holiday decorating contest just about every year. While the chamber has sponsored the contest in the past, it's been the city of Mullens that's sponsored the contest in recent years. The chamber usually sponsors the Christmas Parade.

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