Exeter to make spirits brighter this holiday season

Exeter Grinch, business owner partner to create a light and music show running through the heart of downtown to open chamber’s Christmas Open House this Thursday evening

By Reggie Ellis

EXETER – Exeter’s Christmas Open House has been a holiday tradition in the town for 28 years. Held on Thursday evenings between Thanksgiving and Christmas, the Rockwellian event harkens back to a simpler time when families would venture out of their homes and into downtown to search for the perfect Christmas gifts, visit with neighbors and reconnect with those returning home for the holidays. 

Family friendly traditions are something that attracted financial advisor Garrett German to relocate his office to the small town 13 years ago. He loves the old-fashioned feel of the city with its tight-knit neighborhoods, central district of antique stores and boutique shops and year-round calendar of community get-togethers. 

German also likes taking traditions to the next level. Several years ago, he started a Christmas light show at his office, 160 S. E St. in Exeter, with thousands of lights blinking to the beat of holiday songs. It was a dream of German’s to light up all of E Street, from his office at Maple Avenue to Palm Avenue two blocks north. 

“I’ve been thinking about it for seven or eight years but I never had the manpower or time to pull it off,” German said. “But this year, it all come together on kind of a fluke.”

The opening night of the Exeter Chamber of Commerce’s Christmas Open House takes place on Thursday evening. But instead of townspeople and Christmas customers gradually making their way downtown, German said this year’s event will start with a bang! At 5:30 p.m., the Exeter Grinch (Van Crawford) will place his green, furry fingers on the handles of an old school detonator at Mixter Park and plunge downtown into a sea of Christmas colors and songs. Trees along the two blocks will light up to the beat of well-known Christmas songs for a new twist on a time-honored Exeter tradition. To hear the music for the show, viewers can tune into 92.5FM.

“It’s about creating memories and moments for people,” German said. “We’re going for that ‘wow’ factor. Having people stop, experience something and then get a positive reaction, that’s the big payoff for us.”

German and his crew started the light show at German’s Harvest Wealth office at the southwest corner of Maple and E streets during the first week of November, right after voting ended on the chamber’s annual Scarecrow Contest ended for the month of October. 

German said the light show is a partnership between his office, the Exeter Grinch, the chamber and the city of Exeter. The lights are provided by German and Crawford, the chamber is making it apart of its Christmas Open House on Thursday nights in December and the city installed circuit boxes and electrical outlets on the city’s light posts. German said one of his employees, Arturo Casas, played a key role in stringing up several strands of lights in each tree down E Street. Dan Espinola, an employee with Exeter’s Public Works Department, was crucial to getting circuit boxes installed in each light post to power the multitude of different colored strands. German said city work crews also pruned the downtown trees to make it easier to put up lights and connect them to the light posts. 

“Each tree had to wrapped four times for each color in the show,” German said. 

German said he came up with the idea about eight years ago at the height of the Visalia Grinch’s popularity. Like many families from around Tulare County, German set aside a night to watch the digitally synced music and light show at Crawford’s southwest Visalia home. 

“I remember thinking how incredible it was and how I wanted to do something like that in Exeter,” German said. 

Earlier this year, German was having a conversation with a friend of Crawford’s and asked for his contact information. In April, the two met and began to plan the downtown light show debuting this Thursday night. German said the show will feature five songs, synced to 3,000 strands of lights in four colors, stretching down two blocks of downtown Exeter, including a centerpiece section of lights at Mixter Park. German estimates there are over half a million individual lights in the show. German said Crawford programmed the entire show, that between the five songs, should last between 10-15 minutes. 

German said there are 504 channels of lights and programming each one for one, thee-minute song can take up to 50 hours.

“A lot of work has gone into this and a lot of manpower,” German said. “I go to bed each night dreaming of putting up lights and Van goes to bed each night dreaming of programming them into a show.”

Michael Guzman, communications director for Harvest Wealth, said he remembers thinking that the Grinch character and donations seemed like an oxymoron at first. He said about 90% of the Dr. Suess tale focused on how bad and vile the Grinch was. But the end of the story is a total transformation of the character leading to his overwhelming generosity. When Crawford decided to revise his role as Grinch for Exeter last holiday season, he jumped at the chance to get more involved in his new hometown. 

“I feel like Van’s giving is much targeted toward Exeter now,” Guzman said. “He loves living in this town and this is something he was excited to be a part of.”

In the spirit of the Grinch’s tradition of donating to the Visalia Rescue Mission, Guzman said they have set a goal of raising $10,000 in cash and collecting food donations for the Exeter Food Closet. Food donations can be dropped off each Thursday night in large containers along E Street and monetary donations should be made online at Bitly/GrinchGift. As of press time, Guzman said they had raised nearly $1,000 before opening night. 

“We want to help Exeter become a destination for the season, a place where they drive through, see what’s going on, and want to get out of their cars to shop at our stores, eat at our restaurants and give to a good cause,” Guzman said. 


The light show will play every evening in December between 5:30 p.m. and 10 p.m., including every night of the Christmas Open House on Dec. 5, 12 and 19. The normal sleepy nighttime town will stay open late and entice customers with light refreshments, special offers and special events from 5-9 p.m. on Thursdays leading up to Christmas. 

Horse-drawn carriage rides and old-fashioned fire truck rides are available for families thanks to sponsorships by Exeter Family Dentistry and realtor Tricia Kirksey. For more information on the events, call the Exeter Chamber of Commerce at (559) 592-2919.

The light show will not play during its normal time this Friday, Dec. 6 in order to not conflict with the Exeter Christmas Parade. The parade will begin at 6:30 p.m. on Pine Street in downtown Exeter. This year’s theme is “Christmas on the Farm.” For more information call (559) 592-5262 or  visit CityofExeter.com. 

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