Michelle Sowell and her family in Milton go all out each year to convert their farm into a winter wonderland
Each year, thousands flock to the North Pole to see thousands of holiday lights. But the joy-seekers aren’t taking a trip to the Arctic Circle — they’re going to Florida.
That’s where Michelle Sowell and her family decorate about 15 acres of their massive Milton farm for their annual month-long event: Sowell’s North Pole Christmas Light Display. The Sowells go all out, including train rides, carnival and beach scenes, a “religious” area and a “huge” snow-themed area.
“They all call me the crazy Christmas lady!” Sowell, 54, tells PEOPLE, adding that she loves seeing families drive through the decorated farm. “It makes me feel good, it makes all the work that we’ve done for months worthwhile. To see the kids get aboard the trains and pint and ‘ooh’ and ‘ahh’ and scream and yell, that’s what makes it worthwhile. That’s what it’s all about.”
Visitors enter the farm under a light-filled sign that reads “North Pole” and explore the acres, where they can meet Santa and play with zebras, horses, a camel, and even a kangaroo.
She works with her husband Terry Sowell, 72, her daughters Ashlie Abbott, 33, and Tiffany Bonner, 31, and their husbands for at least three months to set up the display, which is open through the month of December.
This year, Sowell says, she’s spent at least $45,000 on the decoration, including thousands of lights and three-and-a-half miles of extension cords. She says she’s hoping to keep her power bill at bay, but last year it cost her $3,500.
“The power company loves me this time of year,” she laughs. “They think I’m crazy because I just make it happen somehow.”
Sowell says she remembers her parents decorating the farm when she was a little girl. So, in 2003, she and her husband decided to continue the tradition and began opening the light-filled farm to the public.
Over the years, Sowell’s North Pole Christmas Light Display has become a staple in the community, and Sowell estimates that about 50,000 people show up throughout the month.
“I decorated a lot as a child with my parents and my sister and as I grew older I just kept carrying it on myself,” she tells PEOPLE. “I made it a lot bigger every year and it just kept growing and growing until it got out of control. It’s really, really big now.”
Thanks to their annual holiday display, the Sowells were chosen to compete on ABC’s The Great Christmas Light Fight, in which families from around the country showcase their Christmas displays in a competition to win a trophy and $50,000 grand prize.
Their episode is set to air next season, according to WEAR. Sowell says that, should the family win, they plan to buy a giraffe.
“Just being a part of the The Great Christmas Light Fight show, that made my Christmas,” Sowell raves. “To have that experience of that show, it’s just a once in a lifetime thing. It was a real positive experience.”