Jeff and Allison Hartwell’s show-stopping Christmas display outside their home on North Juniper Street in Canby comes from the humblest of beginnings: a wooden nativity they purchased from a family friend 28 years ago.
“That year, we had been married about three years, and we decided we really wanted a nativity, but they were really expensive,” Allison Hartwell recalled. “So we just decided that it was going to be our present to each other.”
The scene, made by longtime Canby resident Yvonne Scott in the style of the Precious Moments figurines, is still a central part of the Hartwells’ display today, nearly three decades later, though some alterations have been made.
The rest of the display, however, has grown exponentially over the years, led primarily by Jeff Hartwell, who is also a chiropractic doctor and owner of the Hartwell Chiropractic clinic in downtown Canby.
“It’s definitely grown. We’ve tried to add at least one new feature each year,” Jeff said. “The second feature we added was the ‘God With Us’ sign. I just thought that the word ‘Immanuel’ was kind of like a one-word summary of the meaning behind Christmas.
“But I realized that if I just put ‘Immanuel,’ a lot of people would probably miss the meaning of it. So I decided to spell it out: ‘God With Us,’ the Incarnation. That’s what it’s all about.” He would later add the heart outline to the 14-foot-tall sign to emphasize God’s love.
Almost all of the pieces are designed and custom-made by Jeff, based on the materials he has on hand each year. This year’s addition, a striking depiction of the angel appearing before the shepherds with the message “A Savior Was Given for You,” was painted on an old hot tub cover he salvaged.
Last year’s new piece, a sign bearing the words “Joy to the World, Our King Is Born,” takes its distinctive, round shape not from a stylistic choice, but the fact that it used to be a table.
He also takes inspiration from his personal faith and what he has been learning or experiencing that year.
“Whatever God’s doing in my heart that particular year may inspire that year’s new addition,” he said.
The display takes about a week to set up and take down each Christmas season, and he’s lost track of the number of hours he’s invested in it over the years.
“It’s just a passion of mine, to share Christ with people and remind everybody that, you know, it’s not about Santa Claus,” he said. “We’re celebrating Jesus’s birth.”
The Hartwells said they have gotten a lot of supportive comments over the years from folks who appreciate the quality of the display and the message it shares. The positive response inspired them to participate in this year’s Canby Christmas Tour of Lights, an annual fundraiser by the Friends of the Canby Public Library.
See the Hartwells’ display this holiday season on the corner of North Juniper Street and 9th Avenue, catty-corner from Canby Alliance Church.
To hear more from Jeff and Allison Hartwell, check out Episode 410 of the Now Hear This: Canby podcast, “Home Is Where the Hart Is”:
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